One of the things that bothered me most about the Obama presidency was the hero-worship of him by the left and, if you will pardon the redundancy, the media. Actually, hero-worship isn’t quite strong enough. After all, magazines printed images designed to make it look like he had a halo over his condescending leftist head.
The only politicians in the past century who come to mind as potentially justifying being worthy of perception as heroes are Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela. I might be missing someone.
To be sure, from my Constitution and liberty-oriented perspective, we’ve had some praiseworthy politicians during my lifetime. Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Jack Kemp to name a few. I can only think of two current federal politicians with the character to potentially one day be near that group: Senators Mike Lee and Ben Sasse, though frankly I doubt either will have enough impact to join the club. Congressman Chip Roy is doing well early in his career… let’s keep an eye on him. And Justin Amash is a man of principle, but he’s FORMER Congressman Amash now.
But not a single one of those people is a hero to me. Hero-worship or, even worse, idolatry of politicians is a dangerous thing. These people are in positions to impact how others live their lives. How you live your life. And how much your children will pay for the benefits that government “gives” you. Politicians legislate and regulate and dominate. Out first instinct about them should be wariness, not veneration, not even admiration. A very very few might earn the latter.
Remember, many politicians on the left and quite a few on the right have accomplished precious little in their lives. On the left in particular, it’s remarkable how many have not had a productive private-sector job. They feed off the public trough, sometimes doing good things for the paychecks they receive through the reductions in your paycheck and mine, typically spending most of their time trying to figure out whom to raise money from and whom to pander to in order to win their next elections, lest a private sector job be required for them to pay their bills and lest they lose the ability to wear the lapel pin that signifies them, at least among themselves, as one of our betters or masters.
Thomas Massie, the libertarian-oriented congressman from Kentucky often doesn’t wear the pin; he disdainfully calls it “My Precious”, referencing the harmful and dangerous impact on the wearer’s mind such as was caused by the One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Politicians who are adored – which Churchill and Mandela largely weren’t for most of their politically active lives – too easily become enamored with their own power and overly confident in their own wisdom. For “we the people,” that drift toward populism is extremely and unfailingly dangerous. Particularly so when the specific politician is already a populist and inordinately susceptible to the genuflection and applause, finding them both ends and means of their own.
Part of the reason that we have a Senate and an Electoral College is to push back on populism. Our founders understood its danger, implicit in the idea of a tyranny of the majority.
One of the very closest people to me called President Trump “a miracle.” I understand what he means, but it’s not true. Not because of any particular merits or demerits of the man, examining which is not my purpose today. I’ve always disliked the hero-worship, the idolatry, of Donald J Trump. Not because he’s Trump, but because he wanted to be, and became, president. Just as I always disliked the worship of Barack Hussein Obama.
At the risk of sounding trite, we had two American presidents who deserve to be thought of as heroes: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. What’s remarkable is not that we haven’t had one since then but rather that we had two in such a short period of time. I imagine most people don’t think of it this way, but we are twice as far from Lincoln’s presidency now as Lincoln was from Washington’s. In fact, although mid-18th-century life spans were about half of today’s, there would have been plenty of people who were alive during the presidencies of both Washington and Lincoln.
These were both humble men – at least humble for someone in such an exalted position – with Washington famously turning down an offer effectively to become King of the United States of America. How many modern American presidents or members of Congress would have turned down even a lesser offer of increased power and years of incumbency? (My) precious few.
Power corrupts. It tends to corrupt even good and wise people. Hero-worship of politicians increases the likelihood of such corruption. And in every case, even though a given partisan imbalance born of such adulation of a person in power might seem to favor some group of Americans over another for a brief time, the losers from political hero-worship inevitably end up being all of us.