Jonah Goldberg
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Instead, Landesman embraced a timeless tactic of power politics. He debased himself with incandescently vulgar obsequiousness to his supreme leader. "There is a new president and a new NEA," he proclaimed. "This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists."

After more fawning praise for the "Optimist in Chief," he added that proof of Obama's desire to take the NEA in exciting new directions was the president's "out-of-left-field choice to head the NEA, a signal I certainly took to mean he wasn't interested in business-as-usual for the arts." One must trust that Landesman's interpretation of his own appointment is accurate.

Let us pause to reflect on Landesman's odd -- by which I mean absurd -- historical analysis. Obama has written two books, one good, the other a plodding concatenation of political clichés and bromides. Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs, published by Mark Twain, were a literary triumph. Woodrow Wilson wrote many books of great import but of less literary worth. JFK won a Pulitzer for one of his books -- the one he didn't write, alas. But Richard Nixon wrote plenty, as did Herbert Hoover, including two definitive texts, one on mining, the other on fishing.

Oh, and Lincoln never wrote any books.

In short, Landesman doesn't know what he's talking about. But he does know what he's doing.

What matters to him is not the power of Obama's writing but the power of the writer. Why else compare a democratically elected president to one of history's most iconic dictators? That is unless we are to believe he is a huge fan of Caesar's "De Bello Gallico."

There have been far greater writers with power than Obama since Caesar. Among them: Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru, Benito Mussolini, Vladimir Lenin and Marcus Aurelius.

By displaying with brazenly self-abasing ignorance that he is wholly Obama's man, Landesman is making it clear that the NEA is completely committed to Obamaism. There's no need for any more of Mr. Sergant's tacky, Chicago-style pay-to-play. Self-humiliation sends a far more powerful signal.

No doubt the provincial official has pleased his Caesar.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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