28 June 2008

Heil Leader

Richard J. Evans writes in The New York Review of Books:

Almost as soon as the Nazis came to power in Germany, they made the greeting 'Heil Hitler!' a compulsory part of national life. Civil servants were legally obliged to sign documents with it, and anybody writing a letter to officialdom would have been well advised to do the same. Schoolteachers had to greet their classes with a 'Heil Hitler!,' raising their right arm stiffly in the 'German greeting' as they did so; train conductors had to use the greeting when they entered a compartment to collect tickets from passengers.

I can't help but wonder if we aren't doing something similar at this stage of elections.

The election is, for me, coming into the boring period. Gone is the plethora of choices that I found so interesting. Even when they weren't choices that I liked, I liked the fact that, for instance, the Republicans had such a wide variety of characters, I mean candidates, who represented very different segments of the American right.

But even worse than the sudden lack of variety is this deification stage of the election process. The right has to continually defend an old conservative who likes to pretend he is a maverick; the left has to defend a young liberal who likes to pretend he's led something before. These are real people and real choices (not even bad choices), but Obama and McCain are as far removed from flawless as the rest of us. And yet their supporters see fit to elevate their candidates, gather in circles around them, and then chant like primitive natives before the god of volcanoes.

"Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion," John Gray writes in the opening line of Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. Sadly, it doesn't seem as though we have to put in place true despots to feel compelled to deify leaders. There is something more tribal or religious about this stage of elections than rational and open.

We carry our psychoses into every arena we play in - from family to business to community; I suppose that there is no reason that politics should be excluded from this weight. But does politics have to be based on such psychoses? It just seems to distract from the larger and more important question about what kind of world we want these leaders to help us to create.

I suspect that one of the reasons we do this is that if we could convince ourselves that these leaders really are omnipotent, we won't have to take responsibility for our world. And in this cycle - deification, disappointment, and vilification of leaders - we have the electoral process that never once forces communities to be accountable for creating the world that we all love to complain about.

3 comments:

LSD said...

I also feel like the election has become less interesting. I have held from the start that the process should have some sane limitation on the length of time it is allowed. (What does it say about the importance of our politicians' roles when we feel no difference when senators take a year or two off to run for higher office?

I think the deification is a product of the two-party lock. The choice has, now, become binary and folks are voting against, as much as they are voting for. -If you don't want so-and-so, then you had better do your best to make whosit look good. Because, if he gets in, we're done for!

ThomasLB said...

It will be interesting to see what happens to Obama's supporters if he is elected.

He has been cast as the next Robert Kennedy- not the real Robert Kennedy, but the Robert Kennedy that people imagine he would have become if he had lived- and if Obama doesn't deliver and deliver big, there will be a lot of angry, dissillusioned Democrats in 2010.

Life Hiker said...

I like Obama, but I'm not under any illusion that he's been sent from God.

There's plenty of evidence that he's a decent, intelligent, and thoughtful person. His campaign and post-primary activities have been focused on uniting, rather than dividing, all elements of the electorate. He may win by a landslide.

More important to me, however, is that he has not got caught up in the small stuff. As president, I think he will work to solve the big problems and rightfully put the smaller ones on the back burner.

Obama could be a great president, but he is just a competent man. You'll never hear "Hail, Obama!" from me.