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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Political Messiahs in Tailored Suits

Let's not pretend that the right is any more immune to leader worship and cults of personality than the zombie hordes on the left. The cult of personality as a means of power predates political orientation, it dates back to the first men who understood that leadership is not about doing what the tribe wants, but about elevating yourself above the tribe.

Reasoned political involvement is about fixing toilets. When your toilet is broken, you look through the listings, find a plumber who seems to have a good track record, look at his rates and decide if you want to bring him in to do the job.

Leader worship is about ignoring the broken toilet and reveling in the greatness of the plumber who doesn't actually fix your toilet, but spends hours talking tough about fixing all the toilets or movingly about the broken toilet inside each and every one of us.

To worship a leader you must first turn off the discriminating part of your brain, the one that is able to spot flaws and think critically about a subject. The one that notices the toilets still aren't fixed. The one that questions his toilet fixing track record. You must fall in love.

People fall in love with leaders all the time. And they do it for the same reason that they fall in love with members of the opposite sex. Completion. Love bypasses the messier questions of life and gives us an immediate solution in the form of a man or woman. The one who fix everything wrong in our lives by just being there.

Leader worship is a lesser form of religion that seeks unity with a man, rather than a deity. Anyone who doubts that's so only need look back a few years to the zombie hordes who flocked to worship Obama and take in the glowing rays of his presence. While gods are invisible and out of sight, a political leader can be seen in the flesh, his flesh can be pressed, and when he talks, you hear him. Does he hear you? His followers like to think so, it's better than admitting the awful truth that no leader can save them. That the hard work of fighting for their cause is in their own hands.

How can you spot leader worship? The same way that you can an abusive relationship. Excuses. The more excuses there are, the more wrong there is underneath. The excuses are the rational part of the mind being suppressed by the devoted grey matter that throws out explanations for everything. As excuses begin to contradict principles, a defensive show of angry outbursts follows. And the thinner the excuses are, the greater the anger.

The left spent years making excuses for Obama. Now all it has left are the excuses and the anger. The love is gone, now all that's left are the rationalizations for it. And the rationalizations are stronger than the love, because they are a psychological defense mechanism that prevent them from admitting how foolishly they behaved.

A challenge to a reasonable position is met with reason. An attack on an emotional position is met with emotion. There is nothing wrong with emotional positions. Some things we accept uncritically like the love of one's country and people. If we examine them too critically, then it is easy enough to come to hate them as the left has. But the uncritical acceptance of a politician is a dangerous thing.

It may be a good thing to follow your heart in matters of the heart and to go on faith in matters of faith, but in matters of politics it means turning over the keys to the kingdom to a politician and then giving him a blank check to do what he will.

All human beings are flawed. Even the best leader will have mixed motives, clashing agendas and fundamental errors. The checks and balances that restrain one man's flaws are invested in the legislature and the voters who can collectively check any leader in his time. But they cannot do so unless they know he is wrong.

It is easy enough to tell a plumber that he hasn't fixed your toilet, unless you have accepted that the toilet is a metaphor, and your plumber has been selected for charisma and wordplay, rather than his plumbing skills. That is the state of the broken toilet in Washington D.C. And it's also the state of the nation. The toilets never get fixed, and the excuses become elaborate philosophies about the nature of toilets and why not fixing them is actually better than fixing them.

The age of kings is done, but the immediacy of media has made image king. Our leaders are to be tall and handsome. James Madison and John Adams would have never stood a chance of being elected today. They are to be polished speakers. Lincoln with his notoriously shrill speaking voice would have been laughed out of a modern debate. And Washington with his difficulties socializing, brief speeches and dislike of ceremony would have found the modern campaign trail unbearable.

There is no help for any of this. Or for a system that excludes the best from even seeking the office because they are not telegenic enough. But the media made image king is also a dangerous thing as it makes it all too easy to confuse the surface with the substance and confuse the physical qualities of leadership with the character of a leader. To fall in love with who a leader seems to be, rather than with who he really is.

Enthusiasm is the lifeblood of politics, but it's also a poison when it becomes a consuming embrace of a politician. Politicians will always let you down because they are only human beings practicing a corrupt profession. And even the best of them must be called on what they do wrong, or what results is the tyranny of charisma and the salesmanship of the slick.

What a politician fears the most is the discerning voter-- the man or woman that he cannot lie to for very long, who will not be carried away by flights of enthusiasm, and will look at the whole picture before making a decision. He fears this for the same reason that a car salesman fears a customer who knows all the tricks, has studied up everything about the car and will make a smart decision.

The politician and the car may be the best choice, but it is easier to deal with less discerning voters and customers. But that 'ease' breeds laziness and that laziness easily translates into corruption.

Unmanaged workers are usually less productive than managed workers. And the voters are meant to be the managers of politicians. The ones who check up on them, call them out for their mistakes and demand better of them. Workers who can manipulate their managers are terrors, and so are politicians who can easily manipulate the voters.

Government is only productive to the extent that voters think critically, judge harshly and demand more from their leaders. It is useless to the extent that voters embrace politicians, fawn on them, admire their beach photos and join their cult of personality.

Nothing destroys a democracy so thoroughly and comprehensively as a cult of personality. The last three years should have taught us that. Nothing makes people close their eyes to what is going on as well as leader worship does. And then the thieves have their range of the store, the treasury and will go on signing promissory notes in our name for the rest of it.

A politician cannot save us from other politicians, only we can save ourselves from them by taking responsibility for our choices, by them professionally as men and women out to do a job on our behalf and holding them to our expectations, rather than being caught up in the illusion that their backers spin around them.

To do anything else is a poison that will destroy any hope of reform, that will corrupt us and our leaders, and perpetuate the state of corruption already in place. No man or woman can change the system through sheer force of personality and goodness. Only their accountability can do that.

We don't need more messiahs in tailored suits, what we need is a serious and critical examination of the man or woman we will choose to represent our cause in the nation. That means a balance of flaws and virtues, undertaken with the understanding that we are making choices, weighing the positives and negatives on a scale, and choosing the balance that serves our aim best.

This is the only rational thing to do and it is what we must do if we do not become caught up in cults of personality. If we do not close our eyes and let go of our minds and instead have faith in a man or woman to come to Washington D.C. and save us. The moment that we close our eyes, we are lost.

When a nation's leaders are corrupt, then the nation can be saved, but when the people worship them, then all is truly lost. In the coming time, we will have to determine who will go forth to stand for us in the district, the state and the nation. And balancing pragmatism against principles, having done the best we can, cast our die and hope that a higher power will guide our hand.

But all this depends on keeping a clear head when we play the game and on remembering that our cause is not the man, but the idea of freedom. We do not labor to find ourselves a better master, but to make ourselves the masters of those who would rule over us. And if we fail to do that, if we close our eyes, then our blindfolds will become our chains. And those we should command will rule over us instead.


  1. Yup. The right has gone way over the top in messiah worship themselves now.
    Everyone is looking for a messiah to pull their fat out of the fire. Its delusional.

  2. Ron Giganti24/8/11

    Saw big excuses for Perry's pandering to the extreme religion. They said it was for political reasons. What possible political reasons can you have for praising false hood and lies? What possible reason is there to support false hood lies and etc.

  3. Anonymous25/8/11

    At the risk of enraging most readers, I have to say that this is a huge concern I've had about Palin. It seems like many on the right relate to her the way many on the left relate to Obama. I just don't get it. Would that the country could handle someone like John Bolton. Sadly, many, irrespective of where they fall on the political spectrum, seems to have patience for nothing more than vapid sound bites. It's truly disturbing and does not bode well for our future. But then, maybe it's always been this way...

  4. Would be interesting if America returned to the election system of it's heyday: One who comes forth out of a group to be elected is per definition not electable but the person in society chosen by the majority of the people should become the leader. A bit like Moses did not run for candidate to lead Israel out of Egypt but in the end accepted the task. In this comparison to replace G0d as elector by Majority takes a bold step but the US should try.

  5. Anonymous25/8/11

    One more little rant: Marco Rubio is presumably a rising star in the GOP. Lots of folks seem to love him. But go check out his web site and look under "Issues." He does not even have national security listed among a handful of issues. Is this the best we can do? And he is supposed to be an up and coming, best and brightest, presidential material type. I scratch my head in wonder...

  6. I've never understood the passio of people who want an "interesting" leader. I can understand it from the "media" who have to follow these characters around all day and might fall asleep if he/she is TOO boring. I understand it - but I don't care.
    because I would rather have a grey little person whose only obsession is running the country properly than one who wants to be a standup comic.

    But then, it's possible to have both in the one person.

    I don't think it's possible for voters to be on top of every single issue a candidate deals with. That's a full time job. But it should be possible to get a good sense of whether they respect their country and more importantly, their potential constituents.
    Oh - and keep the law!!
    Outstanding article Sultan K, esp. the first few paragraphs.

  7. Once again, Sultan Knish hits the nail right on the flush valve.

  8. Irwin Ruff25/8/11

    To Anonymous: Bravo! I'm glad I'm not the only one that favors John Bolton.

  9. The best way to fix a toilet is to do it yourself. :)

  10. Anonymous25/8/11

    Don't confuse Perry and Palin with Obama. Perry, nor Palin ever claimed to stop the oceans from rising, every sick to be healthy, and everyone to be working. Those were Obamas words, and they claimed him to be a god, a messiah, and he ate it all up, acted like one covering up the fraud he really was.
    What many on the right have in common with Perry and Palin is the christian faith, which those of us are to believe in the Bible teached, we are likeminded. We never confuse humans with any god or messiah-because we know better. Perry and Palin would tell you that. They wouldbe embarrassed to be called 'god', and would put a stop to it.

  11. I recall that all throughout my educational career, from grade school through high school, history was taught as a sequence of images one was expected to worship and be in awe of. This was especially true of Woodrow Wilson and FDR. They could do no wrong, never did wrong, they were saints on earth, and we should all be grateful that they “sacrificed” their lives (or at least shortened them) by “serving” the greater good – which was statism and the growth of government and the controls imposed on free men. I never bought into the worship phenomenon that Daniel describes here. It took a measure of autodidactic effort but I learned that, contrary to the textbooks, Wilson and FDR were not men one should admire, even in their three-piece suits. They were the mere predecessors of Lyndon Johnson, Carter, Reagan, both Presidents Bush, and now Obama. You can throw in Truman and Eisenhower, too. They all helped to establish and sustain a statist federal government that absolutely no candidate will ever challenge the legitimacy of, or its capacity for destruction.

  12. Oh, and I forgot to mention JFK. I was in high school when he was assassinated, but the news media response and the whole nine yards of "sorrow" that enveloped the country astounded me and was frankly scary. It was similar to what I later read about the year of "mourning" imposed on Argentina when Evita Peron died. Well, I didnt cry for JFK, either. The effect of JFK's alleged charisma on people around me was equally frightening.

  13. I know this gets people mad but I really do hope that the conservatives don't become so reactionary (hostile) about the candidates the support such as Palin that they scare off average Americans.

  14. I also consider Bolton a good choice. Sadly America today would not accept him. They like the Hollywood personality types.
    When I think of a GOP 'messiah' I envision Perry rather than Sarah Palin, who is worth 10 of Perry any day.

  15. Anonymous26/8/11

    I know I will be stoned for my opinion, but when everyone has voting rights you can’t expect any changes.
    Only people who give to the country more than they take should have a right to vote.

  16. Great post, Daniel, as you know this issue disturbs me as well. I linked to your post here: http://zillablog.marezilla.com/2011/08/it-rained.html



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