Regular readers will recognize that theme, particularly where the noxious Cult of the Presidency is concerned.  The good news is, columnist S. E. Cupp, who has a way bigger platform than I do, is sounding a similar theme.  "It seems like politics has surpassed sports and organized religion as the most defining part of our identity. Our politics has become synonymous with our values and our organizing life principle. Instead, politics really should merely be a mechanism to govern."  That's a pardonable lapse in a pundit: in real life, "What line of work are you in?" is generally a conversation-extender rather than "do you go to church?" or "Are you a Democrat?" or even "Are you a Badger fan?"

Read on, though.  It's the Cult, heretic!
Partly to blame is our increasing obsession with the American presidency as an embodiment of hope and change, to borrow a phrase.

Long before former President Barack Obama was supposed to save the country from its many suffering ills, so too were Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush. These were merely men — politicians, at that — but onto each of them was foisted a heavy mantle of expectation that was never going to be fully realized.
Yes, and it's always the same few "transformational presidents," and yes, William Clinton is on record lamenting the absence of a saecular challenge of the magnitude of slavery or depression or Communism, thereby diminishing his shot at greatness.

Maybe it's time to lower expectations.
The American president, it is believed, must solve all our problems, both complex and mundane. He or she must reflect to us our idealized best selves and represent all we hope to become as a nation over the next four years. Whether we seek a Republican or a Democrat, a strong man or a caretaker, a traditionalist or a progressive, we truly believe we can find and deserve the Aaron Sorkin version of a president — a leader who is omnipresent in our lives and reflective of our values.
The problem with any kind of omnipresence is it kills initiative. Sometimes, whether you're making executive decisions, or simply managing a freight yard, you have to tell people who are asking irrelevant questions, "I can't manage my position and yours."  (In extremis, asking "why do I have to do all the thinking around here?" is over the top but justifiable.)
In reality, the president has very little to do with our day-to-day challenges. The most influential people in our daily lives likely run our schools, our municipalities, our health, safety and sanitation boards. Most of us couldn't name any one of those people.
Indeed, and those obscure people are often doing their jobs, so you can hit the loo without having to think about it.  "The problem isn't that we're too tribal — it's that we've let politics replace community."  Community can be emergent in a way that formal politics, particularly at the national level, cannot be.  Bet on emergence.

No comments: