What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: AnamolousNYC
Few things are more damaging in politics than to elevate an imperfect individual to the status of a demigod whose proposed policies will solve the nation’s every problem. Yet for whatever reason, there exists near-idolization of presidents both past and present who are thought to have been the governmental equivalent of miracle workers. Messiah complexes abound in positions of such prominence and power.
These complexes, though, are only enabled by the willing devotion of the masses who place the individual into office with some supposed “mandate” to which they claim they will adhere, but which is often cast aside and whose abandonment is often justified with whatever reason is determined to best placate those who are paying enough attention to see the change and complain.
Barack Obama, for example, was seen by his followers as somebody who would change the myriad abuses propagated by the Bush administration, especially in regards to foreign policy, civil liberties, Guantanamo Bay, the military offensives in the Middle East, and the domestic surveillance of American citizens in the name of fighting a “war on terror”. In office, however, he has exchanged his “change” for a healthy dose of status quo, not only maintaining but also exceeding the abuses of his predecessor.
On the other side of the false left/right political dichotomy, we have Ronald Reagan—he whose name is too often repeated by conservative candidates hoping to embrace his mantle. Here we have a president who was a gifted orator (did they have teleprompters back then?) and claimed to adhere to lofty ideals and near-libertarian philosophies, but whose programs and proposed laws hardly reflected the bill of goods sold to the American people along the way. Reagan’s political dissonance (some might call it hypocrisy), though well known to those who objectively study history, was summarized in a recent Newsweek article:
The RNC based its purity test on Ronald Reagan’s “principles”—chief among them a belief in “smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits, and lower taxes.” But although the Gipper slashed taxes dramatically during his first year in office, the rest of his fiscal record directly violated the very rules the RNC created in his honor. During the Reagan years, federal employment grew by more than 60,000 (in contrast, government payrolls shrunk by 373,000 during Bill Clinton’s presidency). The gap between the amount of money the federal government took in and the amount it spent nearly tripled. The national debt soared from $700 billion to $3 trillion, and the U.S. transformed from the world’s largest international creditor to its largest debtor. After 1981, Reagan raised taxes nearly every year: 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1986. The 1983 payroll tax hike even helped fund Medicare and Social Security—or, in terms today’s Tea Partiers might recognize, “government-run health care” and “socialism.”
Previous presidents—notably, FDR, JFK, “Honest” (Heh) Abe Lincoln, and others—have likewise been glorified, and their multitudinous political sins shoved down the proverbial memory hole. (God bless the internet, may she be kept safe from all those who would do her harm.) This is a significant disservice to those who will be voting for future presidents, where understanding the repeated failures and entrenched establishment corruption found in both parties and almost all presidents, to one degree or another, would help one realize why the system itself must be reformed.
American idolatry is manifested not only for singers and dancers on cable television, but for hollow rhetoric and false promises lavishly distributed by aspiring political candidates on the campaign trail. Patriotism at its core demands the defense and support of key political principles—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness among them—and the refusal to justify any deviation therefrom. Certain presidents may have had endearing personalities, witty rhetorical mastery, or profound knowledge on public policy, but elevating them to celebrity status and glorifying them with praise, while refusing to admit their many follies, is disingenuous at best, and idolatrous at worst.