For a college whose motto is veritas, Harvard has long suffered from an excess of bull, whether from gov-jocks shoveling it in section or pre-frosh trying to impress their hosts. With several presidential candidates and political gurus having visited in recent weeks, the problem has only grown worse.
On Monday night the pile got just a little bit deeper as John F. Kennedy Jr. visited Winthrop House in an effort to promote his magazine, George. Acting in the typical Kennedy tradition of myth-making. JFK Jr. portrayed George as an influential political magazine that is a must-read for those interested in politics. Yet when examined carefully, George resembles People much more than it does the National Review.
Most strikingly, the magazine devotes a disproportionate share of its space to advertisements. The articles act more as breaks from the incessant and unceasing commercialism than vice versa. Such a format stands in stark contrast to that of serious political journals, which place greater emphasis on actually informing the reader about complex political issues than on selling perfume.
Moreover, many of the articles themselves deal with politics only in a peripheral sense. In the most recent issue, three of the ten major articles concerned movies or movie stars. The others primarily focus on political figures whose celebrity appeal far outweighed their importance.
Nowhere does George attempt a serious, in-depth look at the great controversies of the day, such a Medicare or the budget deficit. One wonders if George is more about the entertainment industry than about politics.
While George certainly has some value as an entertaining read, Harvard students and the American public should not regard it as a substitute for publications that really deal with the major issues confronting our nation. The America of today has real problems problems that we must deal with in a constructive and thoughtful manner. The key to doing just that lies not in trying to portray political leaders as celebrities but in educating the American public about the complex problems we face as a society and the often difficult solutions to those problems.