Friday, October 22, 2010

Three Cheers for Politicians!

President Obama was in California today. He gave a speech in Los Angeles to a crowd estimated at 40,000Even though the majority of the US is rapidly becoming disillusioned with Obama, the mentality of the faithful hasn't shifted much. 
In an earlier speech, Brown quoted both Spiro Agnew and Mahatma Ghandi. As he left the stage the crowd erupted with cheers of "Jer-ry, Jer-ry, Jer-ry" that sounded eerily similar to the studio chants that greet Jerry Springer.
No kidding, eh?

I've tried (and largely failed) to explain to several people today exactly what it is that I find distasteful about all this. But in a nutshell, it comes down to this: it seems unbecoming of free-born citizens of a republic to cheer too loudly for their elected leaders.

To this antipodean, it's staggering that such a number of people would turn up. In Australia the whole notion wouldn't pass the laugh test. The concept of lining up for several hours to hear the Prime Minister speak would be considered ludicrous by nearly everyone. It's not just that they'd have better things to do - they actively would rather not be there. This would apply even amongst people who voted for her. My guess is that in the whole of Sydney, there might be perhaps 100 people willing to line up for hours on end, and they're mostly employees of the Labor Party already. Politicians as a whole are viewed with suspicion and dislike, even politicians from the party you vote for.

And to my mind, I'm quite happy about that.

Perhaps the most insightful observation about this came from my (Australian) friend Jerome Cardinal. During the Obama victory rally in Chicago, he was walking past a TV which flashed to a close-up shot of a woman crying. His response was 'It looks like a @#$%ing Michael Jackson concert.'

He was right. Nobody lines up at 5:30am to hear a policy speech scheduled for 2pm. People line up at 5:30am to see rock stars. And I'm deeply uncomfortable with a citizenry that views their leaders this way. I think it's an attitude that tends to feed the worst tendencies towards narcissism and megalomania that most politicians already have.

I remember Mark Steyn making a similar point during the 2008 election:

There are generally two reactions to this kind of policy proposal [Obama's promise to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet]. The first was exemplified by The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder:
What a different emotional register from John McCain’s; Obama seems on the verge of tears; the enormous crowd in the Xcel center seems ready to lift Obama on its shoulders; the much smaller audience for McCain’s speech interrupted his remarks with stilted cheers.
The second reaction boils down to: “‘Heal the planet’? Is this guy nuts?” To be honest I prefer a republic whose citizenry can muster no greater enthusiasm for their candidate than “stilted cheers” to one in which the crowd wants to hoist the nominee onto their shoulders for promising to lower ocean levels within his first term.
Three stilted cheers for the stilted cheerers. There, surely, is the republican ideal: a land whose citizenry declines to offer anything more generous than stilted cheers for whichever of their fellows presumes to lead them.

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