The rumour that instead of Barack Obama being in Vogue it might well be the other way round ended up as a whimper.
The possibility of Anna Wintour being sent to the United Kingdom as the US ambassador might have been a mere tantaliser, but it would not be a coup. You could be a banker, a techie, an owner of a football team and if you’ve dished out big bucks as donations, you could well get a nice gubernatorial post as examples show. Bloomberg reported:
Rewarding donors with ambassadorships is a staple of the presidency, and Obama’s picks are slightly above the 30 percent average for envoys drawn from outside the career foreign service, said Susan Johnson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association. In his first term, Obama nominated 59 ambassadors, including 40 bundlers, who lacked experience in the diplomatic corps. “When he ran for election in 2008, on several occasions, Obama declared his intent to appoint more career people, and that has not actually happened,” said Johnson. “Our expectations were lifted, only to be dashed by reality.”
This could mean two things.
President Obama is an unusually nice man who values friends. Wintour helped raise more than $500,000 for his campaign. She knows people in the glamour world who will pay in thousands of dollars for pre-election dinners. In the world of politics one never quite knows who will do the back-stabbing, so he prefers to stand by those who have stood by him.
Or it could be that President Obama is a sharp cookie. For all the reasons cited above. He can ‘use’ an outsider by citing this ‘reward’ scheme and keep the other stake-holders at bay. Those with money and social influence can always be recalled without political fallout; they can return to their old day jobs.
Besides, the political stands of the UK or many European countries are not really contrary to that of the United States. The position does not require tact as much as it needs a place with a performer to head it. President Obama is not likely to send any of his moneyed friends to Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or even Israel.
From the little I’ve read about Wintour being in the running – and this is not the first time – I notice the tendency for a slight open-mouthed, “Whhaat? Editor of Vogue?” reaction. Had it been the editor of The Washington Post would it be more respectable, or perhaps New Yorker? Had it been a man trussed up in a tuxedo at the New York Fashion Week and not a woman in a sleek gown would there be a buzz about it?
The very people who like to reproduce photographs from Vogue or comment about the celebrities quoted in it tend to rubbish it. Wintour is neither Jane Fonda of the early activist days, before she found workouts more profitable for body and soul, nor is she an Angelina Jolie doing the rounds of poor countries to pick up babies or wipe their tears. Richard Gere does his bit for Tibet; George Clooney goes to Darfur. A couple of days ago, Paris Hilton landed in India and visited an orphanage and later a temple. These too are diplomatic efforts. They might not be sponsored by the government, but they are American and represent their country.
But isn’t this a bit more serious, for it is an assignment by the government for the government? I doubt if anyone would demean their country overseas. There have been embarrassments, especially of the bedroom kind, but Petraeus was not a career diplomat, was he?
If anything ought to be of concern it is the nature of rewarding people and for the disgusting amount of money spent on getting an individual to head the government. This is not restricted to America. It happens even in poor nations. Is seeking votes based on policy not enough? Fund-raising and donations put the leaders in an awkward position for, besides the rewards mentioned, there is a more sinister plot. Corporate houses might want be kept happy, licences will be doled out, and certain media houses may get preferential treatment.
This is not about the people of the country. It is only about the elite. In that sense, Anna Wintour would be a good choice for ambassador. Those who make the White House a happening place also make it to the pages of Vogue.
(c) Farzana Versey
(c) Farzana Versey