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A 'devil' not worthy of an ambassadorship

Getty Images for LACMA
Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue Anna Wintour arrives at LACMA 2012 Art + Film Gala Honoring Ed Ruscha and Stanley Kubrick presented by Gucci at LACMA on October 27, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for LACMA)

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By Lane Filler
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, 9:24 p.m.

It's been 200 years since the United States kicked off a shooting war with Great Britain. But that nation might be wondering if we're looking to start another scrap. What else could be signified by rumors that Vogue editor Anna Wintour could be our next ambassador to the Court of St. James's?

One can only imagine befuddled, monocled British public servants on the phone with the White House: “Dear Lord, is it something we said?”

The primary qualification for many ambassadorships — the ones in countries we rarely take issue with — is raising and donating wheelbarrows full of money for winning presidential candidates. Presidents would probably also like to give jobs to folks who raise money for their opponents, if they could only make them take the assignments: “We really hope you'll enjoy your time in Somalia, Ambassador Rove. If you run into any trouble just call Ambassador Adelson in Iceland. He's always so helpful.”

But no, the gigs go only to the money herders of the successful, like Wintour.

Born in Great Britain but now a U.S. citizen, she co-hosted a $40,000-per-head fundraiser for President Obama in June, then did another in August for $35,800 a plate. I wonder why the meal at the second event was $4,200 less. No dessert? Box wine?

Granting posts based on fundraising is neither a new foolishness or a Democrat-specific one: President Richard Nixon famously said, “Anybody who wants to be an ambassador must at least give $250,000” — and that's when $250,000 meant something.

But the idea that you can buy a taxpayer-funded job, an awesome title and use of a mansion is abhorrent. To be fair, rich people are also selected because they're expected to spend some of their own money entertaining, but still.

It's been agreed that this needs to stop and a law went into effect in 1980 demanding ambassadors be picked based on skills and experience. Now, we can celebrate 32 years of that law being ignored.

Patronage works if you pick candidates who are suited to the position and are big contributors. Our current ambassador to Paris, Charles Rivkin, got the job by co-chairing Obama's California financing efforts. But he ran two large companies, has deep roots in France and politics, was brought up in a family involved in the diplomatic corps and is garnering rave reviews from experts here and in Paris.

But when you pick grubbers of money unsuited to the position, watch out. Cynthia Stroum, an investor in startup companies who bundled for Obama like nobody's business, was forced to resign as ambassador to Luxembourg last year after she was described as aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating. She dedicated pretty much all the resources of the embassy to her own comfort.

Reports said she forced employees to spend days seeking the perfect umbrella for her patio.

Which type is Anna Wintour? She's most famous for a fictional film depiction of her life, “The Devil Wears Prada,” in which she was ... the devil. She insists on sitting separately from other journalists at fashion shows. She cannot bear to be at parties for more than 20 minutes. It's said her employees are not allowed to ride elevators with her or start conversations.

As for tact, Wintour once said of Minneapolis, she could “only kindly describe most of the people I saw as little houses.” She shared this not with a friend, but on “60 Minutes.” I hope Londoners are getting plenty of exercise and laying off the bangers and mash.

If these jobs matter so little that they can be handed to whomever can corral the most cash for a campaign, they don't need to exist. And they definitely shouldn't go to people famous for an inability to play well with others. If you can enrage Minnesotans, we don't need you representing the United States on the world stage.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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