Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

27 October 2012

“The Messiah’s” Burden

As the life of Jesus showed, it’s not easy being The Messiah. People expect too much from you, and you expect too much of yourself. In Jesus’ case, the result was crucifixion.

The President is no Messiah, but he labors under similar burdens. From the moment of his “miraculous” ascension to the presidency, people have expected too much of him. And though it’s hard to get inside his mind, it seems he has, at times, expected too much of himself.

In many ways, his election was miraculous. Or so it seemed at the time.

When he started his quixotic campaign in 2007, few expected him even to become the Dems’ nominee. Most of the smart money was on Hillary. Under the circumstances, seasoned African-American pols might have been expected to be most realistic of all. Yet most of them backed Hillary initially, not for reasons of deep preference, but because they didn’t think Obama had a chance.

When he won not only the Democratic nomination, but also the presidency, it seemed like a double miracle. I still remember that touching picture of an African-American lady, sitting on the floor, legs akimbo, near a pew of her church, with tears streaming down her face and her child gently touching them. There is no doubt in my mind that part of the reason for her tears—and mine, too!—was the feeling that a miracle had touched us all.

But in truth, Obama’s election was no miracle. It had five practical causes, none of them divine. The first was the President’s immense talent. It amazed anyone with an open mind who knew him or saw him work. The second was the times: we were about to see the back of a president whose stupidity had caused gigantic blunders, who had started two needless wars, run up gigantic deficits, presided over a global economic collapse and couldn’t even speak English. Everyone was looking for change.

The third cause of Obama’s electoral miracles was the poor quality of his opponents. In experience and judgment, Hillary had little going for her. John McCain had even less. A hero in the Vietnam war and a straight shooter, he himself confessed he had little to offer in economics, which the election was all about.

The final two causes related to the campaigns. Having watched Karl Rove’s dirty tricks elect the stupidest president in American history, the Dems were not about to let that happen again. They and Obama assembled the strongest and deepest field of campaign professionals that Dems had ever put together and vowed to beat Rove at his own game. John McCain helped them win by running a slime-ridden, racist campaign that repelled many voters, for which he all but apologized after he lost.

But most Americans knew none of this and cared less. What they saw was an outsider with an improbable background riding in miraculously on a white horse (a seemingly no-longer-racist electorate), promising much-needed hope and change. His unusual background only strengthened the vague impression of something way out of the ordinary. At the Inauguration, the huge crowd of two million happy people heaved a collective sigh of relief when Obama took the oath of office.

Ever sensationalist, our media picked up the meme, magnified it, and rode it to profitability. Ever shrewd, devious and exploitive, GOP strategists picked it up, too. No doubt they remembered the story of Jesus and hoped for a figurative crucifixion in the next presidential election. They still do.

Rush led the way, declaring just days after the President’s inauguration that making the President fail was the GOP’s chief goal. After some initial embarrassment, the rest of the GOP took Rush’s lead, not seeming to notice what a vile oaf he was and always has been. (Thinking of him in the company of our Founders is like imagining a half-decomposed dead rat in a basket of perfect apples.)

And so we have the sad irony of our currrent campaign. The GOP and Mitt have made themselves competitive in this race essentially by playing into the “Messiah” meme. They are blaming the President for failing to cure all the many consequences of Dubya’s catastrophic stupidity. They are blaming him for a natural inability to cure, in a mere four years, the consequences of the GOP’s misguided ideology over the last thirty.

And the GOP has cleverly kept Dubya hidden, silent and out of sight, so that lazy voters forget he even existed. When was the last time you saw a major party convention shun its own living ex-president, let alone the most recent one?

You would expect Dem-haters and overt racists to buy into this ploy. They will grab any convenient meme to beat someone of Obama’s background. You would expect unconscious racists to buy into it, too, because it offers them yet another reason to bury and deny their unconscious racism. They are not, as a rule, the most introspective of people.

But what you wouldn’t expect is once and future Democrats, or independents of open minds, to buy into this simplistic meme.

Yet many of them do. You don’t see that much evidence any more. But just months ago myriad comments in online media complained vociferously of disappointment in Obama’s failure to keep his alleged promises, or his general promise of hope and change. Sarah Palin precisely captured this thinking when she derided that “hopey changey thing.”

Now the GOP campaign has pivoted to more specific charges about specific real and imagined broken promises. But the Messiah’s fall-from-grace meme remains in the background and underlies voter credulity.

What’s the best antidote? I think it’s the President himself—his real character, not the chimeras that political consultants may be trying to create.

One of the many admirable things about the president is his evenness of temper. As he said during the 2008 campaign, he never gets too high or too low. He is calm, steady, realistic and reliable. That’s an important reason why he’s good as both candidate and leader. That’s why he’s also infinitely better than Mitt, whose constant changing, backing and spinning would drive both domestic and foreign leaders crazy and create chaos.

Because the President has no manic-depressive gene, he may have trouble understanding people who do, notwithstanding his off-the-scale general empathy. He may not fully realize that, for hundreds of thousands of persuadable voters, the letdown after expecting a Messiah and getting only a good and diligent president is hurting him.

So as the campaign closes, I think it should do its best to undermine the Messiah meme. It should do so by showing real clips from the President’s calm, steady leadership throughout his first term.

These clips should not be made-up ads. The President is weary from the endless campaign, and the few recent ads I’ve seen don’t show him at his best: his steadiest and most calming.

The new ads should show him as leader, using excerpts from his speeches and acts as president. Maybe one of them should be a clip from his sober announcement of bin Laden’s death.

They would make a wonderful counterpoint to negative adds showing Mitt the Weathervane rotating rapidly with every light breeze. At the same time, they would help relieve the Messiah’s burden by showing how much better is a strong, steady leader than an imaginary worker of illusory miracles, which Mitt now is bidding to become.

Footnote: To see the photo, centered in a beautiful essay explaining the feelings of many that night, click here. Be patient: the essay and photo are archived and may take time to load. But no subscription is required.



  • At Fri Nov 02, 02:26:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Maqx said…

    Wow talk about circumstances. Hurricane Sandy has just given the Prez opportunity to do as you described.


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