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Ambassador Wintour?

Jun 25, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 39 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook has taken a certain perverse delight in the sudden prominence of Vogue editor Anna Wintour among President Obama’s more fervent admirers (see “The Obama Vogue,” June 18). If the Republican National Committee were searching for an unappealing image for the president’s reelection campaign—icy demeanor, vulgar wealth, condescending British accent, even villain status in the popular culture (The Devil Wears Prada)—it could not do better than Ms. Wintour. 

Photo of Anna Wintour

So readers may imagine The Scrapbook’s delight when the Guardian, which could hardly be described as unsympathetic either to Anna Wintour or Barack Obama, ran a breathless piece last week speculating that the appropriate reward for all her well-publicized labor on the president’s behalf might be appointment as the next United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.

Of course, at first glance, it’s a preposterous idea. Anna Wintour might be a big deal in the world of haute couture, but no one has suggested that Project Runway’s Tim Gunn should succeed Hillary Clinton at the State Department. Wintour knows all about buzzworthy Vogue covers, and who’s hot and who’s not on the island of Manhattan. But Great Britain is an important ally of the United States, and if Anna Wintour knows anything about foreign policy, or transatlantic relations, she has kept it well hidden under her famous pageboy hairdo. 

On the other hand, the idea is not unprecedented. Professional diplomats—and the nation’s editorial pages—have long complained that presidents tend to award important ambassadorships to friends, campaign contributors, and politicians in search of a job, instead of to eligible members of the Foreign Service. But—surprise!—when Democratic presidents are in office, the editorial complaints are strikingly muted. In fact, in recent history, the Clinton administration was by far the worst offender, in terms of elbowing professional diplomats aside in favor of deep-pocketed friends; and the Obama administration has sent innumerable bundlers to plum embassies. Ambassador Wintour would be exceptional only in the sense that she’s a high school dropout, and her professional background (fashion editor) stands out among the usual business types and Wall Street financiers who become political diplomats.

And from President Obama’s point of view, it would no doubt make a certain sense as well. The Scrapbook doesn’t want to stick its toes into the conspiracy fever swamps, but there is some evidence that the president, for whatever reason, seems less than fond of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

One of his first acts, upon settling into the Oval Office, was to remove a bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the premises and ship it back to the British embassy in Washington. (The bust, from the collection of the British government, had been loaned to the White House after 9/11.) And when Obama met privately with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace—an extraordinary honor for a visiting dignitary—he presented the eighty-something monarch with an iPod stocked with audio recordings of his own speeches.

Sending the formidable, but somewhat frightening, Anna Wintour to London might be just the kind of subtle gesture Obama would savor.

Losing One’s Marbles

Events shape attitudes, and ideas fall in and out of favor in response to facts and figures and contingencies. The Scrapbook, for example, has always believed that the movement for statehood for the District of Columbia—which Congress endorsed in the 1970s and which was strongly supported by the Carter administration—has never really recovered from the four-term mayoralty of Marion Barry. 

We were reminded of this the other day when our eye fell on a front-page story in the New York Times: “Greek Antiquities, Long Fragile, Are Endangered by Austerity” (June 12). The story, reported from Athens, explained how the Greek financial crisis has devastated museum security and archaeological budgets throughout the country, and could have adverse long-term consequences for endangered classical specimens. Already there are examples of artifacts being stolen from museums—there was an armed robbery in February in Olympia—and remote historic sites are suddenly vulnerable to development.

Which, in turn, reminded The Scrapbook of the movement that has gathered considerable steam in recent years to return the Elgin Marbles to the Parthenon from the British Museum in London. 

The Elgin Marbles are a priceless collection of 5th-century b.c. sculptures, inscriptions, and architectural details from the Parthenon, and other structures on the Acropolis in Athens, which were purchased at the beginning of the 19th century by the 7th Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Lord Elgin was worried, and with good reason, that the artifacts might not survive into posterity. 

The Turks had no cultural affinity for classical Greek antiquities, and the Parthenon had been used as an ammunition dump where, during a 17th-century bombardment by Venetians, an explosion caused considerable damage to the marbles. At huge personal expense, Lord Elgin purchased them from the Ottoman authorities, shipped them by sea to England, and sold them to the British Museum at less than the cost of their purchase and transport. You can see them today in a wing specially built to display them.

It is, of course, understandable that Greeks lament the fact that the Elgin Marbles survive in London, not in Athens—just as, no doubt, some Englishmen must regret the fact that the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare First Folios is in Washington, D.C. But Lord Elgin, so far as The Scrapbook is concerned, acquired the marbles with scrupulous legality from the government of the day, and his concerns about their long-term survival were not misplaced. Greece has suffered its share of political turmoil and violence since the early 19th century—not to mention a Nazi invasion and occupation during World War II—and Athens’ legendary pollution has taken a toll on other antiquities on the Acropolis. 

Indeed, The Scrapbook has always believed that the Elgin Marbles survive to this day—and on permanent exhibit, in one of the world’s great museums, for all to enjoy—precisely because, for the past 200 years, they have been in London, not Athens. And if Greece’s financial crisis deepens much further, as it seems likely to do, they will probably stay put for at least another two centuries.

Psychoanalyze Thyself

The mainstream media clearly have difficulty understanding conservatives. Time has even gone so far as to hire a psychoanalyst—Justin Frank, M.D., of George Washington University—to write a column entitled “Republicans on the Couch.” After reading Frank’s latest, we’re convinced that someone needs a long session on the couch to get to the root of their mental anguish—and it’s not the GOP.

The headline, “The Root of Mitt Romney’s Comfort with Lying,” tells you all you need to know, but we read on anyway. “[Romney’s] pattern of lying and not acknowledging it, even when confronted directly, has persisted and led me to look for other sources of Romney’s behavior and of his clear comfort with continuing it,” writes Frank. This keen scientific analysis is based on two observations: (a) that Mitt Romney dismissed some handwringing over an Obama quote in one of his campaign ads being taken out of context and (b) that Romney has accused Obama of deliberately slowing down the economy to pursue the passage of Obamacare.

The first claim of “lying” is absurd—it’s not as if Romney wrote and edited the campaign ad in question. Perhaps it’s regrettable that a political ad is not as rigorously fair as it should be, but this is a complaint that should be taken up with every political campaign ever, including that of Romney’s opponent. Frank’s second claim is that Romney’s citation of a new book by the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber as evidence that Obama slowed down the economy to pursue health care legislation has been refuted by Scheiber himself. It’s true Scheiber doesn’t like the way that Romney reads his book, but if you follow the link Scheiber provides, he also writes, “I can’t give Romney the full ‘you know nothing of my work’ treatment. While he’s definitely misrepresenting .  .  . the administration, there’s a kernel of truth to his interpretation of my book.” Indeed, just last week Scheiber wrote a blog post entitled. “*Of Course* Doing Health Care Slowed the Recovery.”

But don’t worry, Frank has an explanation for this rash of alleged mendacity. “I think much of this comfort [with lying] stems from his Mormon faith. .  .  . There is a long tradition in the Mormon belief system in which evidence takes second place to faith. .  .  . [I]n the Mormon Church, there was a decision to accept authority as true—whether or not evidence supported it.”

To say that this is a woeful misrepresentation of what Mormons believe would be an understatement. The assertion that their belief system makes them uniquely prone to lying is nothing more than knee-jerk religious bigotry.

It’s also rich that Justin Frank, M.D., cites a conflict between the authority recognized by Romney and empirical truths. After all, isn’t Dr. Frank’s entire column predicated on an appeal to his authority as a psychoanalyst? Is Frank really that much more perceptive than other political commentators? If this column is any indication, the answer is a resounding no.

Required Reading

Fresh on the heels of a terrific volume of highlights from its first decade of publishing (noted in The Scrapbook last month, and available wherever books are physically or virtually sold), the Claremont Review of Books has dispatched its Spring 2012 issue, which arrived last week on our desk, livelier and better than ever (that’s the magazine that’s livelier and better than ever, not our desk).

The latest issue features one interesting and thought-provoking article after another, from politics—William Voegeli on democratic capitalism and James Ceaser on the Constitution—to literature—Algis Valiunas on Charles Dickens and Matthew Continetti on Game of Thrones—to philosophy—Mark Blitz on Hobbes and Tao Wang on Leo Strauss’s reception in China. Take a look at the complete table of contents at www.claremont.org/publications/crb/, then subscribe posthaste, and make sure they start your subscription with the Spring issue. You really don’t want to miss it.

Sentences We Didn’t Finish

"The game, however, is up. The clock is ticking toward internal and external collapse. Even our corporate overlords no longer believe the words they utter. They rely instead on the security and surveillance state for control. The rumble of dissent that rises from the Occupy movements terrifies them. It creates a new narrative. It exposes their exploitation and cruelty. And it shatters the . . . ” (from the introduction to Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges, Nation Books).

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