The Voyage of Captain Obvious

Grading is satanic

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Giants and pygmies

I'm trying to make sense of where we are as a country and a world right now. When one looks back retrospectively on 20th century history, you can't help but see these grand personalities fly out at you--Bismarck, Bryan, Cecil Rhodes, T. Roosevelt, Wilhelm II, Wilson, Lenin, Stalin, FDR, Hitler, Chruchhill, Sun Yat-Sen, Chairman Mao, and so on and so on. Good or evil, right or wrong, I can hardly help but see these people as archetypes of something, imagining a world of bold choices and options--nations led by symbols as much as they are being led by people. Even the faults of these figures seem larger than life--when you read about them, they seem more like the faults of the old Greek Gods than the problems faced by mere mortals.

Something seemed to have happened, however. Today, it seems that our leaders are human, all too human. European leaders face continual and seemingly nonstop parliamentary turmoil. American leaders simply spew endless amounts of out of touch soundbytes and try to say nothing provokative whatsoever. Nonstop ethical issues and complaints dog leaders everywhere (some more justified than others--Fran├žois Mitterand recieving official government honors from the Vichy government seems to be a particularly nasty skeleton from the closet). And, most importantly of all, it seems that leaders are terrified of any bold, visionary policy. Our current president runs around saying a bunch of nonsense about Social Security, and continuously contradicts himself about Iraq. All the meanwhile, he idly snickers at himself, and moves about with a smug assurance that is never interrputed with consideration for the facts. His predecessor was hardly better. Clinton's bold contriubtion to history is moderating the insane shit the 1994 republicans demanded. You can trace this back quite far in american history, but Reagan's claim that he didn't remember whether or not he ordered the documents showing that he committed an impechable offense is, to me, a shining moment in modern political cowardice.

OK, rant over. My real point is: is all of this just a matter of perspective? The British rid themselves of Churchhill for Richard Atlee in 1945. FDR attempted his own war on the constitution with his court packing plan, and didnt' really beat back the Depression, anyway. Most of the other guys were the victims of severe personality flaws that they could barely overcome. If we were contemporaries of these guys, would this post be talking about how rediculous it is that we are led by lame-o's like TR and Clemenceau, and how the world used to be ruled by real giants like Abe Lincoln and Napolean Bonaparte?

Also, if your answer to the previous question is no... then are things better this way? Is it good that we don't have major changes and clear choices between leaders come election time? Is it good that we don't have major fundamental change on the table, and that we make up for not having FDRs and Churchhills by not having Stalins and Maos running around? In the long run, I'd have to say probably, but living in a sound byte society is getting damn fucking frustrating.

1 Comments:

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