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Fantasy, Celebrity And Dynasty Politics

Several people have already taken a whack at the embarrassing Ruth Marcus column arguing for Caroline Kennedy’s appointment to the Senate from New York. Marcus expresses enthusiasm for something that is a sure sign of a serious sickness in our political system, which is the increasing role of dynasticism in our politics. In Marcus’ case, though, this is combined with an embrace of celebrity politics as well as what I would call fantasy politics. Not every argument for dynastic succession and office-holding is necessarily focused on the person’s celebrity, as it is not always the case that the heir is a famous socialite, and very few are tied up with bizarre fantasies of political fairy-tales. Lisa Murkowski holds her office thanks to good, old-fashioned nepotism (or, technically, filiatism), but does not benefit from any particular celebrity status, much less weird pseudo-hagiographical cults built around her father. Kennedy is a special case: she is famous because of her father, and has inherited the strange mystical adoration that some liberals still insist on showering on him, and so benefits three times over from the dynastic connection.

There have been many cases of actors entering politics, trading on either their fame or their ability to assume a pleasing role or both, but as others have already observed the actor-candidates earned their offices through campaigning and demonstrating some basic competence in matters of policy. An appointment for Caroline Kennedy would mark such a shameless embrace of dynastic politics that it might even make members of the Nehru-Gandhi family blush. What makes the Caroline Kennedy case so disturbing, and Marcus’ enthusiasm for it so appalling, is not merely that it grates against every democratic, meritocratic, and liberal instinct, but that it represents a full embrace of unreality.

Many Palin critics mocked her selection as something out of a cheesy Disney movie; Caroline Kennedy’s advocate in Ruth Marcus is openly declaring her desire to have Enchanted performed in the Senate. The blurring of politicians and celebrities, which became one of the main themes of this election, would be surpassed here by the replacement of mundane politics with fantasy. Her support for Obama, perhaps even more than Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, was deemed to be important because of nothing more than the symbolism of it and the continuation of the Kennedy myth that it represented. Were she to be appointed Senator for the same reason, it would mark another step in the tawdry, sentimental Princess Dianification of our politics.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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