Tabloidization: How Our Endless Desire for Sensational News is Crowding Out Great Leaders

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A google search of articles relating President Obama turned up over 163,000 articles in the last day alone.  Is the overexposure of public officials crowding out future great leaders?

I read a fascinating article today by Aaron David Miller about how greatness in American presidencies is likely drawing to a close.  He argues, quite accurately in my opinion, that exceptional presidents are governed as much by the personalities as the circumstances and that great Presidents are increasingly more difficult to come about.  Miller lists a series of factors to justify this claim, but one of them stuck out: “an intrusive, omnipresent, and nonstop media.”

To be sure, the explosion of the media is a double edged sword: on one hand it has given an outlet for people such as myself to discuss, become more knowledge, and contribute in a meaningful way to the public policy discourse.  On the other hand, it has also given rise to a greater quantity of lesser quality journalism, including an annoying tendency to focus on mundane personal details and, more worrisome still, to disqualify leaders for their pasts.

Obviously I’m not saying that we should just elect anyone to any position, but some of the greatest leaders in history often dabbled in unsavory activities.  Franklin Roosevelt was disabled and had numerous mistresses, JFK was a notorious womanizer, Churchill’s affinity for alcohol is well document.  This list doesn’t even count the statements that historic leaders undoubtedly made in private that today would be cause for a media eruption the likes of which would make Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment seem minuscule.

Obviously I’m not condoning the nefarious behavior or unwise comments made by these leaders, rather I think they shouldn’t be exclusive grounds for dismissal.  In today’s media environment, sensationalist news often trumps the finer details of policy (just look at the front page of!).  Society is so focused on the personalities of politicians that commentators actually “decipher” policy based on the perceived state of mind of our leaders.

It takes a very dedicated person to wish to seek public office as a growing prerequisite is having your entire life scanned, examined, deconstructed, and analyzed.  Even for the most immaculate person, this public unveiling is hardly a pleasant task.  At the same time, this overexposure is doubtlessly dissuading countless talented individuals from seeking public office out of concern for their privacy.  Scrutinizing public officials is a good thing in a democracy, and that’s why a free media is vital, yet does the contents of the President’s brunch last weekend really matter to voters?  I would argue that it doesn’t.  Rather we should focus on what the President (or any leader for that matter) is doing for his or her country and judge him and his ideas accordingly.

It’s a sad indictment of Western Politics that we, the electorate, are more interested in the latest sex scandal or personal detail than the intricacies of decision making and policies.  As an example, the French tabloid magazine Closer saw its weekly sales explode after it published a headline-grabbing story about the President’s sex life.  Why does this even matter?  Our democracies would be much better off if we focused on critically analyzing the decisions of our leaders rather than where (or whom) they spend their nights with.

I don’t blame the public for this sad state of affairs.  We are all, in truth, subject to an endless stream sub-par journalism that enhances sensationalism in an attempt to boost sales.  The reality is, we live in a world where the Buzzfeedesque model (which isn’t all bad) is far more profitable than the in-depth journalism of the New York Times.  Media sources that were once focused on bringing in depth analysis have sunk into the tasteless, yet profitable, field of yellow journalism.  As consumers, it is our responsibility to make clear that, although tabloid journalism has a place in the market, it should not be branded as or take the place of news or analysis.  We should strive to hold our leaders accountable but recognize that, just like us, they are imperfect human beings.  If we stand around waiting for an immaculate leader with new and fresh ideas who will change everything without ever being involved in the slightest scandal, we are just setting ourselves up to be disappointed.  Let us strive instead to focus on what, rather than who, our leaders do!

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Article of the Day: The Last Valls

The Last Valls

This article from the Economist is honestly the best I’ve read at explaining the current problems facing France, and the challenges for the reform-minded Prime Minister Manuel Valls.  There are too many problems in France to simply list here but its clear that Valls has his work cut out for him.

The biggest problem essentially is that Valls is not being fully supported by his socialist base.  As a candidate in the Socialist primary elections in 2011, Valls finished with only 5% of the vote.  Needless to say that few partisans on the French left supported his Blairite form of governance.  The issues rests in the simple fact that France remains far too focused on social aspects of the economy than on the practical, every day sides. Instead of arguing that reforming unemployment compensation and ease of access into the labor market impacts the unemployed, perhaps we should say it would give rise to new jobs.  Rather than focus on the fact that reforming pensions might mean working an extra year or two, perhaps French politicians should argue that pension reform will give an opportunity for everyone to one day retire, including my generation!

France faces major issues in the economic narratives presented to the electorate.  For many years, politics was framed through the prism of the social model, and what more the government could give.  Times have changed, and French leaders need to adopt their discourse to selling economic liberalism.  Doing so would also help counter the advances of the National Front who, for some odd reason, have adopted a neo-communist economic policy.  Manuel Valls has discovered this gap in economic narratives, hopefully there is still time for him to convince the Socialist Party that this discourse is one worth following.


Article of the day: A New Deal: Modi’s visit to the US has set the stage for a reset of Indo-US ties based on realism

A New Deal: Modi’s visit to the US has set the stage for a reset of Indo-US ties based on realism

This article takes an interesting look at the depth of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States.  The Prime Minister made very public appearances at Madison Square Garden or at the Global Citizen’s Festival but his visit went way beyond these public events.

His meetings with US politicians (including a number of potential presidential candidates) underscore the depth of his commitment to the United States.  It’s interesting to see how active he was during his trip.  As I’ve written many times on this blog, his activity certainly bodes well for the future of US-Indian relations.  Overall, this piece does a wonderful job of highlighting the importance of Modi’s visit but also how it sets the stage for future cooperation down the road.


Article of the day: Emmanuel Macron, Face of France’s New Socialism

Emmanuel Macron, Face of France’s New Socialism

The New York Times ran a piece today about the new French Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron.  Praising the Minister for his youth and vitality, this piece underlined the differences between Macron and traditional socialists.  Despite this apparent break, Macron still very much symbolizes what’s wrong with French politics.

Many people argue that his background, particularly his stint with Rothschild investment bank, make him different from other French politicians.  In reality, Macron only joined the world of finance after failing to establish himself within the ranks of the socialist party.  His unsuccessful attempt to be nominated as a parliamentary candidate turned Macron away from the role of a rank-and-file party worker.  This is the only true element that distinguishes Macron from his socialist colleagues.

To be sure, I fully agree that his more centrist views, particularly on economics, are a good thing both for France and for the socialist party.  Yet I would guard against blindly accepting the narrative that Macron represents a break from the traditional political mold.  The Economy Minister frequented the same schools, achieved the same degrees, and worked as a functionary much like his colleagues in government.

The problem in France is indeed that administration is viewed as a more lucrative (and perhaps more noble) career path than business.  All of France’s brightest minds are being sucked into an administrative vacuum and when they eventually grow to lead the country, the sum total of their experiences push them to fight to protect the government, not cut it.

Two of France’s biggest reformers (and granted, their success is qualified), Manuel Valls and Nicolas Sarkozy, are exceptions in French politics as they were not bred from the traditional Scienes-Po ENA (national school of administration) mold.  Macron, for all his upsides, is hardly the “new face of French socialism.”  In fact, the only major distinguishing feature is that he failed at entering the system earlier.  His background in finance is certainly reassuring, but France needs more leaders who cut their chops in businesses; particularly entrepreneurs!  Until then, Socialist, Conservative, Extremist, will all be the same product with different labels.


Article of the Day: Bill Clinton plays savior for Arkansas Democrats

Bill Clinton plays savior for Arkansas Democrats

CNN published a very interesting article (no it’s not about a baby bump or other mindless gossip) on the role Bill Clinton is playing in the American mid-term elections.  I generally try to stay away from American politics, mostly because it doesn’t interest me, but also because the issues are analyzed to death by pundits and the American media.  Clinton, however, is another beast all together.

As my faithful readers will know, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are political idols of mine.  I think their respective strategies for changing their parties and ultimately getting elected demonstrates the tremendous political acumen both men posses.  It is rightly that raw talent which not only made them succeed in their governing posts, but achieve great things in their life after politics.

This article perfectly illustrates the type of political animal that Bill Clinton is.  Few politicians who have achieved the kind of international fame that Mr. Clinton has would maintain such an intimate relationship with their political base.  Yet, this says everything about politics: its all about relationships.  When I think back to France, it’s painfully evident that politicians need to have the same visceral attachment to their electorate to be able to achieve political results.  Politics is done through groundwork.  That is undeniably the key to Clinton’s success.  Perhaps other politicians will follow suit!


Article of the Day: John Redwood, the EU and some friendly advice for business

John Redwood, the EU and some friendly advice for business

I love the tories.  Rather, I love to criticize the tories.  Although I don’t doubt their prowess in fixing Britain’s economy (I’m dying to have that kind of recovery in France), their disjointed rhetoric on EU membership is downright shocking.  This article perfectly exposes the fault lines both within the party and the party logic!  How can a party that incessantly touts its pro-business credentials criticize the market that provides it with endless customers?

Therein lies the paradox.  The Tories see the EU as nothing more than a glorified free trade zone when, in fact, it is so much more.  David Cameron has already shown that he is in good company when it comes to criticizing the EU: he voted with Hungary’s controversial Prime Minister against the nomination of Jean-Calude Juncker and would join the likes of Alexander Lukasheko if Britain left the European Convention of Human Rights (a realistic possibility).  Yet, for the tories, this is simply business as usual, or so it seems.  The truth is simply that the “cohesion” within the party is haphazardly glued together by this awkward love/hate Brussels dance.

There is a great deal of hypocrisy and incoherence in this policy but arguing with Euroskeptics is like screaming at a wall, it won’t change a thing!  Perhaps a satirical look at the entire situation can sway even the most ardent (read: stubborn and self-centered) conservatives.  Until then, I’ll have plenty of fodder for this blog!


Article of the day: “Everything must change in Italy” an interview with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

“Everything must change in Italy” an interview with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

It’s no secret that I have a deep admiration for Italy’s effervescent Prime Minister.  Partly, I wish the French left had the same energy and reformist zeal that Renzi clearly exudes.  Although Manuel Valls is trying his best to emulate Renzi, he falls painfully short.

I’ve written countless articles on this topic here, but I truly think Renzi can set the model for Europe’s stragglers on how to toe the line between social equity and economic pragmatism.  Just this week, he took on his party bosses and won their support for a controversial labor reform package.  Honestly, this guys has talent!

What I like about this specific interview is the insight he gives into foreign questions.  I’m not used to reading stuff from Renzi on his foreign policy and frankly it looks a little confusing.  I suppose he’s more focused on fixing Italy’s sinking economy (no small task) than issues like Russia, but such a cavalier attitude runs the risk of derailing Federica Mogherini’s (his former FM) hearing at the EU Parliament next week.  I don’t think it will, but it just goes to show that not even Super Renzi can tackle everything!


Article of the Day: What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class

What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class

As I mentioned earlier, this series is going to be eclectic.  Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I love planes.  No, seriously, I LOOOOOVVVEEEE planes.  I geek out over the smallest things and usually arrive at airports a tad early to walk around and look at the various aircrafts.

Naturally, I find air travel fascinating and nothing has piqued my interest more than the suite class in the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380.  I have been fortunate enough to fly the A380 a number of times on the Air France IAD-CDG (DC to Paris for the laymen) route.  It’s a remarkable plane.  When you’re on takeoff roll, the plane is so big that you have the impression that you’re taxiing.  I truly love flying on it and always have a pleasant time on Air France but Singapore airlines’ suite makes my experience look like riding in the back of a ox-pulled cart in the 1800’s.

Today’s article of the day is written by a guy who had the chance to fly on (or rather in) the Singapore Airlines Suite.  From gourmet meals, to in flightentertainment, to a full bed, and culminating with a stewart who is nothing short of amazing, this post has made me want to fly this even more.

The price is far from cheap (more than $18,000 round trip) but wow does it seem worth it.  Perhaps when this blog finally takes off and the big bucks come rolling in, I’ll fly in one of those suites and write a similar post ;).  Until then, enjoy this guy’s awesome post about you’re own bedroom in the skies!


Article of the day: Saving Paris’s Oldest Bookstore

The Atlantic: Saving Paris’s Oldest Bookstore

I have been severely lacking in my posts these past couple weeks.  I greatly overestimated how much time I would have to write while working.  Nonetheless, I remain fully committed to updating this blog and hope to keep posting once a week for my longer analysis pieces.

To stay current (and add more content), I’ve decided to launch a new series called “article of the day” where I will share an interesting article a couple times a week.  I’ve been doing this rather informally over the past few months but I’ve decided to make this a thing.

As you will see, my picks follow no clear order and are rather just articles that interest me.  I keep a binder with all the articles that I enjoy and I’m hoping to pass some of those along to you!

Today’s article comes from the Atlantic and talks about efforts to save Paris’s oldest bookshop Librairie Delamain.  This is a rather personal article for me as I love books, am from Paris, and know this bookstore!  The French government is looking to save it by invoking “l’exception culturelle” — a veiled form of protectionism which gives state protection to certain industries.

Generally, I am against such measures.  But in this case I cannot help but agree with the French government.  The question therefore is: where do you draw the line?  At what point does a cultural exception overstep its bounds and become protectionism?  That answer is not always clear cut.  Just because I love books and wish to protect the historic shops that sell them does not mean other causes are less just.  In fact, it just means that I, Guillaume Julian, care less about them!  Surely that is no way to make policy…

But is protecting culture really an “all or nothing” deal?  I’m not certain.  It’s no wonder that this issue has become a major sticking point in TTIP negotiations.  Culture must be preserved, but can doing so harm the development of a country?  These are all questions that I can’t answer alone but are surely worth thinking about!


Rockstar Status: Narendra Modi’s American Trip and the Future of Indo-American Cooperation

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in front of a diaspora crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York sold out the legendary arena and drew between 15,000 and 20,000 guests.  Modi’s star power in America underlines the incredible opportunity for further bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

Think of the number of people who can sell out Madison Square Garden.  Now put aside the musicians, bands, actors, comics, plays, musicals, sports teams, and other cultural performances.  How many people are left?  Few, if any!

The better question to ask should perhaps be “how many politicians can sell out Madison Square Garden?”.  The answer to that is alarmingly low.  Discussing this very point with some colleagues this morning, we came to the conclusion that such a list would indeed be quite sparse: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton (perhaps Bill, too), Enrique Pena Nieto, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and perhaps even Aung San Suu Kyi.  Beyond that list, only Hassan Rouhani and Vladimir Putin could conceivably obtain such a crowd in New York – and, if at all, only for the shock value.  This list is extremely small and generally reserved for the most elite world leaders and humanitarians.  This weekend, Narendra Modi firmly positioned himself in that exclusive club.

Modi’s sold out speech at the iconic New York venue illustrates the continued popular appeal of the Indian Prime Minister.  To be welcomed by the Indian diaspora, an overwhelmingly affluent population, further underlines the reformist power many see in Modi.

Beyond the obvious implication for the Prime Minister’s popularity, Modi’s first visit to New York launches the beginning of a new era of cooperation between the two countries.  To be sure, Modi’s visit was met with a deal of controversy, particularly from minority groups who still accuse him of genocide during the 2002 riots in Gujarat.  Yet the most striking image is not the picketers and protesters, but the hordes of Indian-Americans ecstatically cheering their Prime Minister.

As I’ve written numerous times, Modi is an incredible oddity in Indian politics as he is a forward-facing pragmatic reformer, rather than the typical democratic-dynastical and purely inward facing politician India has grown accustomed to.  Within this context, Modi represents the best hope of further rapprochement with the United States.  The man once blacklisted by the State Department, now shares a common vision with the United States for reforming the sclerotic South Asian giant.  Furthermore, Modi has proven to be a vital partner, both within South Asia, and as a global player.

In addition to Modi’s favorable views and incredible popularity, both he and the United States share one principal threat that should push the two sides closer together: China.  India is increasingly worried of its neighbor’s bellicose action and the United States views India as a clear check to a rising China.

Within this framework, a strong India, both economically and militarily, is an important ally for the United States.  This week’s state dinner and official visit in Washington will likely be focused on increasing the relations between the two giants.  For both sides, it truly seems like the stars are aligning for a new Indo-American relationship.

Modi’s show of force (and popularity) at Madison Square Garden this weekend has surely grabbed the world’s attention.  The long term impact of the Indian Prime Minister’s massive popularity and his reformist zeal is evidently not a self-fulfilling prophecy.  India still has a long way to go before it can fix the ills that have plagued the country of late.  Yet, the near 20,000 people attending the PM’s speech have sent a clear message to the United States government that Narendra Modi is an opportunity the United States can simply not afford to pass up.

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