Dream on


FOR SOME TIME now we have been puzzling over J.F.K. Jr.

Is he, as People asked, "a man with a plan or a dreamboat adrift?"

Now comes George, his slick political magazine, showing that he is a man with a plan and a dreamboat adrift.

The idea behind George seems to be that politics can be fun, especially when you spice it up with women in varying states of undress. Actually, it's the same idea politicians have had for a long time. As if politics, in the Age of Packwood, is lacking in such titillation.

Cindy Crawford sets the magazine's tone. She's on the cover, with bare midriff, as George Washington. A few pages later she appears in a Revlon ad. Then she turns fashion editor, in a conversation with Isaac Mizrahi on political style.

Here is the discerning Mr. Mizrahi on Hillary Clinton: "She's putting the emphasis on all the wrong things. Like not smoking in the White House -- that's all her fault. That the A political magazine with horoscopes by Jackie Stallone?

White House looks like Beefsteak Charlie's now. . . . If Hillary Clinton had a really good charcoal-gray suit and wore it every day, I would respect her so much." And on Newt: "He looks like an evangelist. You just know that everything is pierced underneath nipples, everything." And on Lamar Alexander: "Who's that?"

George is a strange cross between Vanity Fair and C-Span -- a fanzine for politics. John Kennedy Jr. believes that his magazine is a more worthy form of dithering. And now he can publish pictures of bare midriffs that are not his. He touchingly says he attended a two-day seminar called "Starting Your Own Magazine." And the next thing you know, he has a press run of 500,000 copies and 175 advertising pages. (The other visionaries in the class must have felt at a disadvantage.)

The editor and his publisher, Michael Berman, originally considered manufacturing do-it-yourself kayaking kits. But then Mr. Kennedy had an epiphany that politics is entertainment. Of course, it was his wily grandfather, Joe Kennedy, who pioneered politics as entertainment, spinning Hollywood-style illusion with great hair and teeth.

Joe's grandson thinks politics can be covered in a positive, "post-partisan" way, "as another aspect of pop culture."

"As a lifelong spectator of the giant puppet show that can turn public people into barely recognizable symbols of themselves," he said, "I hope we can provide something more useful." What he provides, unfortunately, makes Gail Sheehy look like Alexis de Tocqueville.

* A horoscope for the presidential candidates by Jackie Stallone: "Lamar Alexander. Past Life: In 1480, he was the Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci."

* An essay by Madonna on "If I were president": "The entire armed forces would come out of the closet."

* A story about how Julia Roberts was victimized by the press on a U.N. trip to Haiti.

Mr. Kennedy is right that culture drives politics. But journalism must regard that phenomenon critically.

"This magazine is giving this society more of what it needs less," said Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic. "Politics is homely and unhip. It has the sizzle of seriousness. But the message of George is, don't take it seriously. Live shallowly. Lighten up. I'm waiting for the Italian version, like L'Uomo Vogue. Giorgio, with Carla Bruni on the cover as Garibaldi."

Celebrity distorts democracy by giving the rich, beautiful and famous more authority than they deserve. And the last thing politicians need is another instrument of public relations. Hordes of spinners are already everywhere at work.

If you drain politics of its gravity and moral force, you're left with stale stuff: Paul Begala ranting about the press being the enemy, photos of Gerald Ford by David Kennerly, and George Wallace revised by Herb Ritts. Mr. Wallace gives his further thoughts on race: "I did a lot of things for black people. Gave them free textbooks."

Will readers picking up a fat, glossy magazine for some vicarious living really want to plop down with a profile of Richard Lugar?

Myself, I hope that John Kennedy gives up his fanzine and moves on to the real thing. The Democratic Party desperately needs someone who looks good in running shorts.

Maureen Dowd is a New York Times columnist.

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