Tuesday, February 01, 2005

On political courage...

Courage is a hard thing for politicians. We wish they could rise above chasing the polls and worrying always about “fooling all of the people, all of the time.” But, the search for one who can rise above the ordinary, who really paid attention to Lincoln’s words and can live them, seems inevitably disappointing. It’s particularly disappointing when a seemingly pure public leader emerges, one who promises they are really not just another politician but then, mesmerized by political power, become precisely what they claimed to oppose.

Lately, Republican leaders seem to be the prime exhibits of this. Perhaps enough has been said about George Bush – remember “compassionate conservatism?” Despite being reelected, he started tumbling off his pedestal before 9/11, war, and fear-mongering gave him staying power. Now it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s white knight, who is stumbling. First, it was his pledge not to take money from “special interests,” which quickly was buried beneath the $33 million he raised in 2004. Now, it’s his promise to “protect our state’s most vulnerable children and families,” which is collapsing under his fiscal conservatism, as he trims child-care funding and keeps public education funding on a downward path. Elected as a popular moderate, he’s behaving like an on-the-take politician, and he's wrapped himself in anti-tax ideology.

Meanwhile, the people are becoming wary of being fooled. George’s popularity continues to slide, although as long as he's got fear on his side, he’ll have temporary upswings along the way. And, now Arnold’s sky-high approval ratings are waning. What's truly amazing is that serious business people are becoming vocal about their concerns over the rising national debt, and Californians, by almost 70 percent, are actually starting to ask for higher taxes. Term limits will ultimately do both George and Arnold in, but meanwhile the people actually seem to be getting a hold of the old no-free-lunch adage. My fingers are crossed. In the face of it, is there a chance our leaders could actually be encouraged to find some courage and start behaving like leaders? Well, I know, it's a rhetorical question.

I'm grateful to fellow mariner, Mike Chambreau, for pointing me to H. L. Mencken's 1920 observation that "The presidency tends, year by year, to go to such [empty-headed] men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts' desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."


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