Do Bureaucrats Need Glamour?

Ilya Yefremov

So what’s the problem with replacing Baal and Barbarossa with Brangelina and Barack? Let me start with the latter.  The kings of old had a pretty simple standard of success: massacre many enemies, don’t massacre too many of your own people, build an aqueduct or two, and don’t be too deranged. A few things have changed since then. Modern governments are supposed to govern, and in ideal world politicians will be nothing more that pegs in the smooth machinery of the state.

Joseph Alsop’s description of Nixon as “a workable plumbing fixture” captures this sentiment well, albeit in a rather unglamorous way. But why does a bureaucrat need glamour? Any addition of glamour and celebrity undermines the functionality of the plumbing fixture. If the public opinion becomes more concerned with the image of the politician than with their effectiveness at what they are mandated to do, then the politicians will care more about the former than the latter.  The advent of the modern media only exacerbates the problem, with 140 character policy statements, platforms cut up to run on 24 hour news channels, and fiscal strategies that fit on a bumper sticker.

Furthermore most societies value very traditional morality, and any action in violation of such may be enough to bring anathema upon a successful political career.

But why? What does it matter how many adulterous blowjobs Bill got in the Oval Office, as long as he was good at what he was elected to do – that is be a good president and run his country well? And why is a politician supposed to be held up to a higher standard of morality? Does this not make the danger of downfall all the more likely? Heaping expectations of moral sainthood or elevating some politicians to a messianic rockstar status (recall Obama’s post-election triumphs) only dooms them to certain failure as no mere mortal can live up to such expectations. And which expectations are these: the archetypes that seek fulfillment are many, and that of the debauched sinner (Dionysos) needs as much fulfillment as that of a chaste saint (Arthemis). How can we expect one person to reflect both?

To summarize the above: using politicians as vehicles for the vicarious fulfillment of archetypal or cathartic narratives makes politics fun and newsworthy but is not very good for the workings of the government, which should go largely unnoticed and untroubled.