Tevi Troy, former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush administration, will present his new book on presidents and pop culture today at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC (1015 15th Street NW, 12:00-2:00 ET). The title is a mouthful: What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House. The writing itself, however, is crisp and elegant.
The subject is one that was close to Andrew Breitbart’s heart–and Troy was a close friend of Andrew’s, one of many serious intellectuals and policy wonks that Andrew inspired and from whom he learned. Troy walks the reader through the Founders’ passion for books, JFK’s embrace of the new television culture, and–ultimately–the emergence of Obama, a candidate not only steeped in, but created by, pop culture.
The research is meticulous, and Troy does a good job of setting aside his partisan feelings for his academic task. But he does not shy away from correcting the record where necessary. He defends Bush’s interest in books–one that took the media by surprise–and notes that Obama has what can charitably be called an exaggerated interest in reading, having claimed to be poring through the same book for two years.
Troy is not only interested in description, but prescription: he provides an appendix, “Rules for Presidents Engaging Pop Culture,” with axioms based on the lessons of history. One of my favorites is “The Simpsons” Rule: “Don’t pick a fight with someone who distributes photons by the megapixel.” Another is the “Left Coast Law,” which stipulates that Republicans always start at a cultural disadvantage with the cultural elite.
The quiet motivation beneath Troy’s narrative seems to be the desire to explain the Obama phenomenon–a president mocked, with a large degree of merit, as an empty celebrity by John McCain in 2008, and yet one who used his mastery of pop culture (especially television) to build a national consensus behind his personality, if not his policies. There is much criticism, but also some admiration for Obama’s achievement.
One thing the book needs are illustrations and photographs, essential to any book on pop culture. Troy informs me that the second printing of the book, now confirmed by Regnery, will have plenty. That is good news for the book’s future success.
Troy’s book is an essential read for fans of Andrew Breitbart, and provides a fundamental historical foundation for conservative criticism of pop culture and politics going forward.