Whatever his many failings, National Endowment for the Arts chairman Rocco Landesman is staying true to his roots as a showman. Not content with seeing his boss crowned with a Nobel Prize, Landesman proves by algebra that President Obama is in fact better than Napoleon, Pope Joan, Kwan Lu of Argus 7, and all other leaders in history:
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.
This quote was found by Kathryn Jean Lopez, but the whole speech is worth taking in, especially the comments from "Jerry Garcia" and others, who raise questions about Landesman's history and object to the general creepiness of the comparison.
But you know something: The ivied, laureled Obama Administration does seem closer to a patrician oligarchy than the socialist cadre people say it is.
The rest of the speech promotes the new slogan "Art Works" and is filled with many wild claims: that a performance space tripled home prices in an East Harlem neighborhood; that an arts districts "transformed" Chattanooga, and that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley should be considered a "number one hero."
Basically, this is why you hire a Broadway producer. Caesar here is just a wild point of comparison, a guarantee of high production value like Jesus or Tony Kushner. It's the courtier's equivalent of "This show features a live elephant!"
But politics is no place for dreamers. Julius Caesar was assassinated and in the aftermath of his death a poet was killed by a pro-Julian mob. His own favored successor allowed the writer and politician Cicero to be beheaded, and later exiled the poet Ovid. These don't seem like good signs for American artists, or for the safety of our president.
Related: Jim Henley on Landesman's more circumspect predecessor Dana Gioia.
Update: Commentary's John Steele Gordon provides an even more thorough check of Landesman's history of presidential literature, including the tidbit that Herbert Hoover published a 640-page translation of Georgius Agricola's De Re Metallica. Which means I've got a new favorite president.