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Obama's Honeymoon Ends

I'll admit to a bit of schadenfreude reading this comment thread at Body and Soul. Many commenters are shocked and disappointed over Barack Obama's "move along, nothing to see here" response to a letter about torture. It shouldn't be surprising that a politician would take a weaselly position on an issue of high moral importance but low public profile. Our political system is set up in such a way as to weed out honesty and moral clarity.

The desire for a messiah -- for Max Weber's "charismatic leadership" -- is a strong temptation for those out of power. I felt it myself, though my cynicism won out. Note, for example, the strength of attachment to Ralph Nader even in 2004, after he had been jettisoned by the party organization that could have made his run productive. Note how religious leaders, who depend on charisma, work hard to stoke their followers' sense of being disempowered in society.

When Republican politicians control the House, Senate, and Presidency, it's easy for those of us on the left to see all of their failings as being a result of their Republicanness, not their politicianness. We attribute to neocon ideology things that are really the product of an electoral system based on the lure of power and the effectiveness of pandering, amplified by the context of a party organization facing no serious opposition. It's tactically tempting, because the idea of cleaning out corruption has a broader appeal than policy choice arguments. And it's psychologically easy because we lack prominent examples that would allow us to distinguish the effects of the ideological and occupational factors. And when people are so hungry for a leader that they can attribute passion and vision to John Kerry, it's no wonder a slick operator like Howard Dean or Barack Obama can sell them (it was very nearly "us") a bridge.

I should be careful, though, not to let my cynicism drag me into the opposite, fatalist, trap of attributing all of the Republicans' failings to their politicianness, and none to their Republicanness.


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