We have always known that a political career is a symptom of narcissism. A man cannot make the public love him unless he loves himself first. And loves himself more than the public ever will.
Once a man has embarked on a career in politics, iconography is an essential skill. The candidate must be portrayed with religious imagery, as larger than life, as a hero.
Thus we have the profile picture on Rahm Emanuel’s Facebook page. Now that Rahm has switched to Timeline, he can post a photo that covers the entire screen. And he has. It’s a picture of Rahm, on Election Night, pointing his thumb at an adoring audience. Behind him, dozens of supporters are clapping. Of all the figures in the composition, only Rahm is in focus. Everyone else is part of a faceless mass. Even his wife, Amy, has half her face obscured by an audience member. These people look as though they were paid to clap for Rahm, but the beauty, they paid him to clap. Because nobody gets that close to Rahm without paying.
Despite the egocentrism of Rahm’s photo, it’s far from the most self-loving political portrait we’ve seen. It’s nothing compared to the Che Guevara-inspired iconography of Barack Obama’s Hope portrait. Or George W. Bush’s flight suit photo, which both metaphorically and anatomically showed off his manhood. Or Robert Kennedy running through the surf.
Politicians can get away with such iconography, if they’re likeable and charismatic. Lyndon Johnson never tried it, because he knew he couldn’t pull it off. Neither could Richard Nixon. They were ruthless S.O.B.s, elected not because the voters liked them, but because the voters feared the alternative more. It’s the same with Rahm. He’s not a beloved character, no matter how many people he arranges to clap for him.