Beware of Political Messiahs

The continued support of Barack Obama is a reminder that most Americans still view politics in messianic terms. The excitement level in 1980 when Ronald Reagan came to office was surpassed only by Bill Clinton’s Hollywood‑engineered inauguration. Ronald Reagan was ridiculed for bringing a Hollywood persona to the presidency. Of course, Reagan actually came from Hollywood.

Bill Clinton’s image had been shaped by the sit‑com team of Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth‑Thomason (Designing Women and Evening Shade) and accepted by the media as a way of making the presidency “more accessible” to the average American. David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun saw through this “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” facade:

No president‑elect has ever used and abused television the way Bill Clinton & Co. did . . . [at his inauguration]. Even Ronald Reagan never figured out that you could stage events at our most sacred national monuments, use those events to link Mr. Clinton to the most powerful icons of our heritage, and sell them to television as prime‑time entertainment spectaculars.1

When Shakespeare wrote that “all the world’s a stage,” he must have had politics in mind. George H. W. Bush used “kinder and gentler” rhetoric. Our taxes still went up and the State was no less intrusive in our everyday lives. Bill Clinton used the rhetoric of compassion which translates into a meaner form of Statism. The pious gush of more political messiahism was evident in every line of Maya Angelou’s “inaugural poem.” Barbara Reynolds, writing in USA Today, stated, “President Clinton is well on his way to creating a nation that not only looks like America but also feels like America.”2 Huh?

The politicians who feast on taxpayer‑funded programs to ensure their re‑election and a fat‑cat government pension at retirement want voters to believe that Washington has changed.

We are assured that the new and improved politicians have the answers. This is a perennial promise that only means higher taxes, more regulation, and the legalization of practices deemed abominable just ten years ago. Will the nation be any better off? Don’t count on it. Clinton and his Hollywood handlers knew this. We were given a circus to divert our attention from the leftist programs that are about to inundate this once great nation. Don’t get me wrong. The Republicans aren’t much better than the Democrats when it comes to defining the role civil government should play in our lives.

For many Americans, our nation’s problems are solely political, demanding political solutions. As a nation, we’re moving toward the election of political technocrats — politicians who can do a better job of managing government. Given enough power and money (of course), government can do anything. “The idol state uses the language of compassion because its intention is a messianic one. It finds the masses harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, needing a savior.”3

William Shirer, an eyewitness to the advance of Nazism in Germany, has much to teach us about tyranny masquerading as political savior:

What really aroused the Germans in the 1930’s were the glittering successes of Hitler in providing jobs, creating prosperity, restoring Germany’s military might, and moving from one triumph to another in his foreign policy. . . .4

Sound familiar?

There is a danger when the disenfranchised turn to politics to secure for themselves the opportunities they have been denied for so long. Consider the Irish. A massive wave of Irish immigrants came to the United States between the 1840s and 1850s. They were a despised ethnic group. “The hardships of their lives may be summed up in a nineteenth‑century observation that ‘You seldom see a gray‑haired Irishman.’ Their average life expectancy was forty years.”5 The Irish immigrants had to settle for menial and dangerous jobs. Employment barriers were raised to keep the Irish out of the more lucrative job markets. Signs for “Help Wanted” often included “No Irish need apply.”

The Irish hoped for advancement through politics. “One of the earliest and most spectacular rises of the Irish in America was in politics.”6 But did the rise in political power translate into progress for the Irish in general? “The Spectacular success of Irish politicians in nineteenth‑century American cities was by no means reflected in the economic conditions of contemporary Irish Americans as a whole.”7Blacks find themselves in a similar situation. There has been a great rise in political achievement among blacks without an equal rise in economic advancement. Why? The expectant belief that political power translates into cultural advancement.

The belief that the State is a provider for our needs persists. Be suspicious of any politician who promises you a better America through politics.

  1. Quoted in The Atlanta Constitution (January 22, 1993), A9. []
  2. Barbara Reynolds, “With Clinton, it’s no longer midnight in America,” USA Today (January 22, 1993), 9A. []
  3. Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 185. []
  4. William L. Shirer, 20th Century Journey: The Nightmare Years: 1930‑1940 (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1984), 156. []
  5. Thomas Sowell, Ethnic America: A History (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 17. []
  6. Sowell, Ethnic America, 30. []
  7. Sowell, Ethnic America, 35. []