Saturday, November 28, 2009

Something Pathetic

There is something genuinely pathetic about Americans and our politics. To quote retired Army major Andrew Bacevich, from his book The Limits of Power:

"Paradoxically, the belief that all (or even much) will be well, if only the right person assumes the reins as president and commander in chief serves to underwrite the status quo. Counting on the next president to fix whatever is broken promotes expectations of easy, no-cost cures, permitting ordinary citizens to absolve themselves of responsibility for the nation's predicament. The same Americans who profess to despise all that Washington represents look to - depending on partisan affiliation - a new John F. Kennedy or a new Ronald Reagan to set things right again. Rather than seeing the imperial presidency as part of the problem, they persist in the fantasy that a chief executive, given a clear mandate, will 'change' the way Washington works and restore the nation to good health." [pp, 171-72]

Oh, how the official or unofficial ideology persists in our minds. Recently I participated in a panel discussion about the presidency and one the panelists, not a thoughtless person by any stretch, said that if only we could restore Madison's dream of having "ambition counteract ambition" [Federalist Paper #51] we could make the nation's government healthy again. Well, if something doesn't work the first time, why think it will work the second time? For some reason that is unsupported by the events of the past 40 or fifty years, if not earlier, people still cling to the idea that the "imperial presidency" and that the right person will lead us into the promised land. I ask students every so often why they trust one person more than, say, 535 persons and they look at me like I am insane. Then I ask them would they want to abolish student government and leave all the decisions up to the one person, the student body president. Ah, you can see it in their eyes, that would not be a good thing! But here we are waiting to hear what Obama has decided on Afghanistan as if his decision could have the ability to solve the "problem" of Afghanistan. Think about that, seriously, for just a little while and you will sense how fantastic such "thinking" is. We know as little about Afghanistan as we knew about Vietnam, both places with histories of thousands of years. But of course we will enter and, lo and behold, none of that history will matter as we, magically, transform these places into what we want them to be, just like we transform land from farm land to subdivision or from vacant land to Disneyland! What a wonderfully pathetic innocence.

Here is another example. The conservatives who support Sarah Palin as if she were some kind of "savior." As a friend of mine said recently, and he is conservative, "When is going rogue conservative?" Indeed. And Sarah Palin who claims to be anti-government, especially anti-national government, wants to, is lusting to be president. As I have said too often, any politician with a family who seeks to go to Washington is a liar or is delusional. It will do his or her family no good at all, no matter how you cut it. Washington is a corrupt and corrupting place - which is why the best of our politicians (a) don't stay very long or (b) leave that place frequently. Sarah Palin's alleged conservatism is merely a disguise which masks her ambition and as even James Madison came to see shortly after "his" constitution went into force, ambition is not sufficient for creating a decent government or society.

To quote Bacevich again:

"At four-year intervals, ceremonies conducted to install a president reaffirm this inclination [to think one person can make us healthy]. Once again, at the anointed hour, on the steps of the Capitol, it becomes 'morning in America.' The slate is wiped clean. The newly inaugurated president takes office, buoyed by expectations that history will soon be restored to its proper trajectory and the nation be put back on track. There is something touching about these expectations, but also something pathetic, like the battered wife who expects that this time her husband will actually keep his oft-violated vow never again to raise his hand against her."

Yes, pathetic is the right word. And those who will pay for Obama's hubris are the troops, the grunts, who always pay for the delusions of our politicians.

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