Monday, March 29, 2004

On The First Lady as the Embodiment of American Soft Power

Let us begin at the beginning, and in the beginning was Lucy, the hottest chick in her day, albeit a little short for my tastes at 3 feet, 7 inches tall (then again -- hey -- horizontally, aren't we all the same height). Fast forward to First Ladies, dear readers: for just as foreign policy considerations -- especially those concerning allies -- ought to be led off with the carrot before resorting to the whip, so too should we not discount the importance of soft power. And, as the last standing world superpower, the First Lady is the embodiment of our overwhelming soft power.

The anxiety of influence of being First Lady (ask Hillary about that) comes in coming after Jackie O. In the days of Eleanor Roosevelt and the Great Depression it was enough to be a humanitarian, the times warranted displays compassion, while the President conveyed a steely command of the Republic. And in the days of post-World War II post-Cold War tensions, it was enough to be a June Cleaver clone, like Mrs. Eisenhower.

Jackie O, pre-Greece, pre-anti-Apartheid Mandela backer Maurice Templesman, was the epitome of insular American chic. She was a product of the Fifth Avenue and East End, Virginia hunt club horsey set and Vassar; a French-educated Debutante of the Year, 1948, was perfectly suited to physically represent American culture in the age of intense competition against the Soviet Union. American Capitalism was good -- just look to Jackie, we seemed to be telling the world.

The long shadow of Jackie O -- which runs continuously and unbroken throughout the latter half of the 20th century (just ask Hillary, who, after Health Care tanked, went with the pink pearls Barbara Bush look for a while), shading the cherry blossoms in Washington. Theresa Heinz Kerry is in a unique position to break this shadow-prison and lead us to the next age -- an age of universal law, transparency, democracy and international cooperation.

Heinz presents a sophisticated image with her Swiss-Mozambique accented english, her Old Master painting collection, her deep study of yoga and her multilingualism -- she speaks 5 languages -- as well as an advocacy of literature, not just a librarian's inquisitiveness. Just as Jackie O classed up the joint with invites to Malreaux and Pablo Casals, who played Bach cello suites (has DC ever been so fucking cool?) in the White House, I believe Americans are goddamned sick of all the country music (even those from Kentucky) and want a First Lady to demonstrate American Soft Power, our cultural riches (and, quite frankly the classical music industry could really, really use the help) that arise from our ability to synthesize and blend all the arts and philosophies of the world into our melting pot. Liberalism and art should be stressed against the pathetic, moribund Anglophilia of the conservative movement, with that faint musty odor of Brideshead Revisited ("yes, Chardin was a fine painter, and Elgar a good composer, but what about the American John Singer Sargent and listening to John Cage on a rainy night after some fine weed?"). God bless America, break out the jazz, thank you very much!

We have rogue ambassadors, hot Hollywood actresses like Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts, who travel to Third World countries trading their celebrity to highlight humanitarian collapse. Heinz would be in a perfect position to continue and encourage Hollywood in this useful role, and, in turn, becoming a liaison between the worlds of literature, art, movies and other cultural institutions around the world, helping our best exports, spreading good will, and -- all good -- raising funds for the maintenance of the mission. Part Hollywood, part Random House, part music industry, part tv land, part museum mile, part Silicon Valley, part fashion houses, the First Lady must be an exemplar of american cultural influence, and, in the process, the premier fund raiser from those institutions.

Resentment overseas that hinder American companies from gaining access could be charmed open by a talented First Lady, the embodiment of American soft power.

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