Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Americans

It is really quite easy to "love" the Americans, because they are so childlike, especially when it comes to politics. Frank Capra made a movie a long time ago, entitled "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," the theme of which is that "a simple, honest man can solve everything..." And, apparently, the Americans still believe this, even if they keep changing their "Mr. Smith." After Obama was elected, you would have thought that nirvana had arrived or was just around the corner. Leave aside that Obama was a Chicago politician, basically, and leave aside an even more salient fact that there has not been what might be called a successful presidency since the presidency of Eisenhower from 1952 to 1960. Of course, JFK was assassinated [and of course according to some mythology he was about to end the cold war and pull out of Vietnam!], LBJ was driven from office, Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, Jimmy Carter is widely reputed to be among our worst presidents, Ronald Reagan would have been impeached for Iran-Contra had not Watergate occurred with Nixon and Reagan limped out of office, George Bush I was a one term president, Bill Clinton, that genius politician became only the second president to be impeached, George Bush II left the nation less secure than he found it and the economy in shambles....And yet despite all of this, the Americans still hold out the hope that a leader, a charismatic leader, will come along and right the ship of state. And today the euphoria of the Republicans attests to the continued strength of this delusion.

"In the high drama of one simple, honest, stuttering amateur staring down the Senate, the bosses, the cynics, the thugs, and the whole seamy structure of American power, the movie [Mr. Smith] asks us to see that one concerned citizen can carry the hope of the nation, if he's sincere and determined enough." [p. 157, "The Presidents We Imagine,' by Jeff Smith] But Frank Capra was wise enough to see the dark side of American delusionalism. He made another movie, "Meet John Doe," in which he acknowledges "the dark, demagogic side of popular movements founded on simple sincerity." [157-58] Capra knew that is was possible for "the cabal to create a Mr. Smith of its own....Under the spell of such a manufactured hero, whatever abuse the bosses meant to inflict on the public could become the demand of the people themselves." [158] Capra knew that a politics of simple sincerity could cut both ways. "The appealingly guileless everyman can also be a demagogue's best weapon." [314-15]

So, as the latest version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington plays itself out in the U.S. Senate, sit back and watch the show. For I am sure that the politics of simple sincerity will be enough to right the ship of state, as has happened so often in the past.

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