Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hey, Mr. President. Don't let it go to your head

The best part about the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States is that it serves as a huge slap in the face to those retrograde meatheads who deserve to be slapped in the face on a daily basis. The worst part of Obama's taking office is the cult-like following he's acquired among a legion of devotees who, rather than look to their own efforts, see their salvation in a guy who couldn't find anything better to do with his life than seek government office. Whether the best part or the worst part seems more important a year from now depends largely on how the man of the day resists the temptation to wield the entirely too massive power he's just been handed.

About two weeks after the presidential election, I passed a gaggle of those retrograde types in a supermarket parking lot. Dad (I assume it was dad) was holding forth to his unwashed spawn about "nigger" this and "White House" that. There's nothing to be done about such racist idiocy -- except to hope that today's events drive him into such a frenzy that he pops an embolism and spends the rest of his immobilized-but-aware life in the care of a nursing home attendant of color whose tender ministrations convince the kids that "those people" aren't so bad after all.

Honestly, if President Obama does nothing else than demonstrate that bigoted jackasses like that are an impotent vestige of an unfortunate past, he'll have done us all a great service.

But then I sign on to Facebook and see that people I've known for 20 years are still -- over two months after the election -- joining groups titled something like "Barack, please wipe your shoes on me" (now with 120 million fans, including the entire state of Delaware!).

And the repeated videos and images of kids drafted into almost worshipful praise for the president-to-be are ... creepy as all Hell.

But President Obama isn't responsible for the cult-like devotions of the more loser-ish among his fans. The worst he's done is hold himself forth as a human movie screen on which Americans could project their own fantasies. And project, they did, creating personal visions of the leader so many of them seem to need.

Gene Healy has pointed out in his book, The Cult of the Presidency, that the president isn't supposed to be a leader at all.

Indeed, the term "leader," which appears repeatedly in Madison, Hamilton, and Jay's essays in defense of the Constitution, is nearly always used negatively, save for one positive reference to the leaders of the American Revolution. The Federalist is bookended by warnings about the perils of popular leadership: the first essay warns that "of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants."

So much for self-government. Lots of Americans missed the memo about running their own lives.

Will Obama resist those calls for leadership? I doubt it -- not because of his special flaws, but because few American politicians of any flavor seem willing to even try. With all those fervent admirers out there, Barack Obama would have to be made of peculiar stuff for an aspirant to government office to turn a deaf ear to his worshippers.

Not just in Obama's case, but in that of his predecessors and (probably) successors to come, I'm reminded of the example of the Romans. When a victorious general came home to be feted with a triumphant parade through the streets of Rome, a slave was assigned to stand behind the guest of honor and repeatedly whisper "memento mori," which means, "remember that you are mortal." The whole idea was to pee in the victor's punch bowl so he didn't get a swelled head during the celebration -- and aspire to greater power.

Throughout the inauguration festivities, we should have somebody up there by the president whispering "memento mori."

That said, I have high hopes for the new president.

I hope that he changes this country's recent poor record on civil liberties, especially Guantanamo and the security state.

I hope that he changes America's belligerent foreign policy.

I hope that he changes his own frighteningly government-empowering economic policy proposals.

I hope that he changes his plans for compelled civilian service.

But one thing I don't expect Barack Obama to change is this country's political trend toward concentrating ever-greater power in the office of the president.

Barack Obama represents a fresh start in a lot of important ways. But given the expectations of his supporters and some of his own announced policies, it's unlikely that restrained use of government power will be one of them.



Blogger Sean said...

I think it's so funny that there is worry about this crazy aggressive expansion of government. Am I the only one that had been paying attention to what the previous administration was doing?!? possibly the largest expansion of the U.S. government ever!

January 20, 2009 3:21 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

And it will get even bigger.

January 21, 2009 7:11 AM  
Blogger BobG said...

I addressed this in a post a few months ago. A president is a representative, not a leader; people who want to play follow-the-leader tend to join cults.

January 21, 2009 3:04 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home