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Americans: Our President is Not Our Father

May 29, 2014

by J. Andrew Zalucky

Darth Vader Father Scene

“Just Kidding!”

On most days, if you take a typical op-ed from one of the major newspapers in the United States, chances are it’s filled with a plethora of Washington-consensus drivel (“Our leaders need to LEAD!”). But every once and awhile, a columnist will really come through and make your day, like George Will does in his latest column for The Washington Post called, “The 2016 Presidential Candidate we Need”,where he described the ideal Presidential candidate for the next election:

“President Franklin Roosevelt urged Americans to tell him their troubles. Please do not tell me yours. Tell them to your spouse, friends, clergy — not to a politician who is far away, who doesn’t know you and whose job description does not include Empathizer in Chief. ‘I feel your pain,’ Bill Clinton vowed. I won’t insult your intelligence by similarly pretending to feel yours.

A congenial society is one in which most people most of the time, and all politicians almost all of the time, say, when asked about almost everything: ‘This is none of my business.’ If as president I am asked what I think about the death of a rock star, or the imbecilic opinions of rich blowhards who own professional sports teams, I will say: ‘Americans should have no interest in my thoughts about such things”

Yea! Now that’s the stuff!

You may not agree with George Will on everything, I can think of at least a couple areas where he and I differ, but any citizen who insists on being treated like an adult should agree with the sentiment he expresses here.

As I’ve said before, one of the primary issues we face in American politics is the “celebrification” (can we make that a new word?) of the president, where we think of the office as just another Hollywood casting room. What’s worse, we’ve allowed the president to take on the role of a father or a personal mentor. I’ve always been aghast at pundits in the mainstream press who urge President Obama to bring us together as a family and join us in our living rooms to embody our hopes, dreams and fears. That list may sound like hyperbole, but just watch any coverage of The State of the Union address and I guarantee you’ll hear (over the sound of the bile churning in your stomach) this kind of nonsense preached from Presidential cheerleaders.

This cultural phenomenon is a symptom of two different pathogens plaguing the American consciousness.

First, there is an element of self-imposed helplessness behind the reliance on the President and our projection of emotions onto him personally. To speak more broadly, it’s the surrender of self-reliance and community-based initiatives in favor of coercive action taken by a central government. This is not exclusive to the Democrats, it just looks that way because they control the White House. Anyone who remembers the G.W Bush years will remember how similar the news coverage was, along with the rhetoric that came from the major networks. And in a way, Republicans bear a lot of responsibility for this. By constantly repeating their mantra of “What would Reagan do?” for every single issue ever, they put on the shoulders of the Presidency a status which it does not deserve. It also assumes a foreknowledge of Reagan’s actions and intentions that (were he President today) no human being could possibly possess. It also supposes that from 1981-1989, he was the only person in government, like a king at the head of an absolute monarchy. Also, in their criticism of Presidential power in the Obama-era, many mainstream conservatives conveniently forget that it was Dick Cheney who set the foundation for an evermore powerful executive branch.

Second, it shows an insecurity about whether or not Americans want to be treated like adults. You see this in absurdities like the rise of “Trigger Warnings” on college campuses and other such nonsense, but it also reflects on people’s relationship to power. Grown adults no longer need parents to hand orders to them as a matter of course, but as trusted advisers when help and guidance is needed. But in adulthood, reaching out must be done voluntarily, not shoved into your face like some awful self-help tutoring session you never signed up for (but still have to pay for anyway)! The same goes for therapy; friendship is another good example.

The President cannot and should not be our father-figure, therapist or friend. No national leader of any country at any time who holds any real power should ever be thought of this way.

First of all, this would be incredibly condescending to ourselves, and actually very unfair to our President. If I actually knew President Obama personally, maybe I could be friends with him. But for now, his only relevance to me is as commander-in-chief of the US military, chief diplomat and the head administrator of the branch of government responsible for enforcing domestic laws.

That’s it.

To put it in a historical context, Stephen F. Knott writes in his article Did Woodrow Wilson Destroy the American Presidency? (in fact, George Will claims he ruined the 20th Century!) that

the more you personalize the presidency and the more you inflate the presidential portfolio, the more you diminish it. It is important to note that the Founders presidency provided both a floor and a ceiling that protected but also energized the office; without this, the office is trapped in a cycle of raised expectations followed by public disappointment and cynicism.

Ideally, our President should have no more glory or celebrity buzz attached to him than the executives of most Northern European countries. Do the Dutch obsess nearly as much about their national leaders as we do? No, they simply think of them as unromantic administrators fulfilling a public service. To be fair, in the case of the Dutch and the British, there is a relatively powerless monarch in place to fill what one could call the symbolic role. thus filling what I would call “the drama gap.” Though I am very partial to constitutional republicanism, having some sort of useful idiot to project all our emotional nonsense on might help those in elected office get some real work done.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very optimistic about our future. I certainly don’t mean to generalize that every member of the two major parties or every reporter at the big media outlets is some Presidential lackey. But when cultural submissiveness appears anywhere in the zeitgeist, it deserves to be roundly crushed at every instance.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2014 11:55 am

    This article takes a psychological approach to an issue that I think also has a much more important constitutional dimension. The problem is not so much an infantile dependency of the public but rather an Imperial Presidency that emerged out of Cold War supposed exigencies and, through precedent becoming custom, has become today’s Imperial Presidency that defies the separation of powers wisely intended by the Founders.

    Look at the War Powers Act that supposedly authorizes the President to make wars without any Congressional Declaration of War or even Congressional debate –and now after 4 decades of such unConstitutional permanent war even the media posits every potential military engagement as a Presidential decision. we saw the media handle Syria that way –luckily Congress DID make noise against Obama’s suggestions of “doing more.” But in Libya he engaged in combat without any Congressional discussion, and asserted it “wasn’t war” when what it really wasn’t was connected to any legitimate national interest –as most of our wars are not.

    The National Security Administration is another example of unConstitutional rule by the Executive with virtually zero Congressional opposition. Spy agencies systematically and unConstitutionally collect data on the communications of virtually every American citizen who uses the internet or a cell phone. Look at how Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress by denying it was happening, and denying his agencies were even spying on members of Congress. Only after the Snowden revelations was he forced to admit he lied to Congress while under oath –a felony that should have him in prison. Ultimately the President is responsible for the Executive branch –remember “the buck stops here?”

    Instead of asserting itself against the Imperial Presidency or defending the Constitution, Congress has become part of the problem. For example, the Congress passed NDAA 2012 that supposedly suspends the Bill of Rights in cases where the President asserts secret evidence someone is a terrorist letting the President make and execute kill lists and indefinite detentions without any due process of law.

    Defiance of the Constitution is Treason against the United States and violation of the oath of office to uphold the Constitution. Yet Congress, instead of impeaching Imperial Presidents, accepts its deterioration into a Caesar’s Senate, a mere relic of the past when we had a constitutional republic.

    What is the role of the insouciant public in all this? Not so much infantile dependency but rather indifference to constitutional government and its slide into lawless empire.

  2. jadesabre permalink
    May 29, 2014 1:57 pm

    “What is the role of the insouciant public in all this? Not so much infantile dependency but rather indifference to constitutional government and its slide into lawless empire.”

    I think the public’s role in this is both. The people’s absolute indifference/apathy combined with the infantile dependence Drew talks about is what has brought us to this point.

    Afraid of ? The government will solve that! Nothing the people need to do but take their soma (in whatever form they prefer: TV, head buried in the electronic device of the moment, what have you) and go on about their lives, no action necessary, no worries.

    And when the people who aren’t taking soma say, “hey, we’re losing our rights!” the ones who are apathetic and dependent say, “but if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you don’t need to worry about it anyway. Here, have some soma…”

    But we have so many who have never been taught how to be independent that this is all they know. Entire generations are taught dependence and apathy (judging by what I have seen and heard, my generation–and I graduated in 1991–was among the last to learn about what the Constitution *actually says* in school rather than being taught the glossed over version. My sister’s children were only taught the First Amendment and taught that the Second Amendment is questionably interpreted by those who wish to have weapons in their homes).

    In my opinion, blaming it solely on apathy/indifference misses the mark somewhat. Yes, it is indifference. You’re right. So is Drew. There is a dependency upon the government, and it is growing. Every time I hear and see people looking to the government to fix or resolve issues that could be fixed or resolved by the people (and wonder why the people aren’t fixing/resolving their government, which is also our right), all I can think is “the Corps is mother, the Corps is father.” And that terrifies me. Because history has already shown us what happens when people become both apathetic to the loss of their rights and allow their countrymen and themselves to become dependent upon their government…and it is horrifying.

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