Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Rule by a Common Man vs. Government of, by and for the People

The Bush presidency has revealed a very interesting tension within democratic governments: many people want a ruler who is someone like them. There is something inherently "democratic" feeling about having a "common man" as a ruler. Ignoring the un-commonness of Bush himself, part of his support is that he is able to affect the mannerisms of "Joe Sixpack" who supported him, supposedly, because Joe would rather chug beers with George than sip sherry with John F. Kerry (I'm a poet, and I do know-it). Indeed, that George W. Bush is such a man of means but would still have "the common touch" probably adds to his popularity over the popularity of what a true man of the people would obtain based on being a commoner.

But even as there is something democratic feeling about having a President who is an "ordinary person", this is, in fact, quite an un-democratic and un-republican way of thinking. In a republican democracy, the President is someone we the people have hired to lead us. Should we hire someone to do this job simply because s/he is someone with whom we would like to have beers? No! A republican democrat would not revel in the commonness of his leader but rather in the elitism of her leader -- she would pick the best man or woman for the job. And since government has a lot of work to do, this leader better be quite good!

It is a populism that leads inevitably to fascism to insist that the sum total of popular representation is to have a leader who is one of us. A true democratic republican views government as a tool to get things done -- to maintain infrastructure, to provide for the common defense, to regulate trade, to protect the rights of the minority, etc., etc. As such a true democratic republican, no matter how expansive his view of what government ought to do, would want the best person for the job of being a leader-- the person best able to lead the country where it ought to go. To demand that the President be one of us is actually to view the role of government as something more than a mere tool -- to view the state as incorporating the people. That is not democracy but fascism. Ironically, to believe that government can do quite a bit of good and even to want an expansive government lead by a strong and capable leader is more democratic than to think of government as a generally useless tool for doing anything other than maintaining public morality and acting macho on the world scene that ought to be headed by someone just like the rest of us.

So when will the electorate stop thinking as cells within an organic state and start thinking of the government as a useful tool -- to start thinking as republican democrats who want to hire the best person to do the job of being our leader rather than being obsessed with having a President with the right religious views or plebian enough tastes?

I think the Bush presidency is the direct consequence of the concerted Republican effort to paint educated liberalism as a social evil. "How dare some East Coast liberal elitest think they are better than me?", the thinking goes.
I see this also in the latter day hostility that conservatives have towards educational institutions. Orwell himself could not have more accurately predicted the demonizing of education in favor of ideological loyalty. I am firmly convinced that Bush's "common man" aura affords him a very unhealthy cult of personality. A good portion of his support is erosion-proof for that reason.
We doubt with Chomsky that Bush talked like he does now at Yale.
Should we hire someone to do this job simply because s/he is someone with whom we would like to have beers?

DAS, that may be one of the truest and most profound statements you will ever make. I hope that many citizens will learn a lesson from the presidency of George W. Bush.
Spengler over at Asia Times has a fascinating article on this phenomenon. Check out http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/GK15Aa01.html There are always interesting points of view over there, worth a look now and again.
"Is it simple coincidence that the West cannot field a single functioning government? The punditry dismisses Bush as dumb, Blair as smarmy, Chirac as arrogant, Berlusconi as bent, and Merkel - well, when they discover some identifying characteristics of the new German chancellor, the punditry doubtless will find grounds to dismiss her as well. Perhaps it is just the luck of the draw, but the odds do not favor the interpretation that all the big nations of the West had the misfortune to find themselves led by ninnies at precisely the same time.

What is it about the personalities of Western leaders, though, that might explain their common predicament? Perhaps it is the fact that the leaders of the West mirror the qualities of the people who voted for them. Americans are obstreperously anti-intellectual, and chose a president with whom they can identify. The British always have been hypocrites, and elected the most hypocritical of prime ministers. The average Frenchman is no less arrogant than the president of the republic, while the Germans, at least since 1945, have devoted their storied thoroughness to becoming as nondescript as possible. Almost every Italian is on the fiddle, and it is fitting for their prime minister to be fiddler-in-chief"
DAS, that may be one of the truest and most profound statements you will ever make. I hope that many citizens will learn a lesson from the presidency of George W. Bush. - janeboatler

I hope I will make even more profound statements at one or other times.

Actually, after I wrote this post, my friend -- who happens to be a social conservative Republican (South Park variety) who doesn't like G.W. Bush -- mentioned in my previous post (about Sarah and Martha) of mine called to inform me of an appropriate Onion article:

Man actually has a beer with Bush
DAS, I hope you make many more profound statements in your life. That was a little bit of hyperbole there in my statement, but why would pollsters even be asking such a dumb question?

I went over to read the Onion piece, and had some laughs. It seems close to the truth of what I think it would be like to have a beer with Bush, except the guy was a lot nicer to him than I think I could be.
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