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  • Michael Breer

Musings on Idol Worship and Politics


"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war." -Revelation 19:11


Some are unmistakably feeling the "Bern", and others alas, are feeling the incendiary...burn.  Bernie Sanders is a fascinating political figure, whether you are for him or against him.  As I mentioned in the previous post, he is more of a political leader, messenger, and organizer than he is a politician; which brings me to something that is pertinent, but not necessarily obvious:  the Sanders campaign is not about him.  One of the things I find very refreshing about Bernie Sanders isn't just his authenticity, it is his understanding and candor regarding the proverbial hero on the white horse.  If you listen to the clip, you will notice that Sanders' mention about the political movement not being about him receives tepid applause.  This is, in part, because for years we have been sold a bill of goods that packages politicians like products you might see in infomercials, i.e., products that provide a sort of cure-all or panacea (see: eight minute abs, shake weight, etc.).


Donald Trump famously said at the Republican National Convention, "No one knows the system better than me, which means that I alone can fix it". Mr. Trump is a cunning salesman, of that there is little doubt, however, political (and scientific) realities have the tendency to fly in the face of such categorical statements.  The coronavirus is, in a sense, the perfect antidote for this type of rhetoric.  Viruses can not be wished away, they do not bend to the whims of an imperious politician, and they certainly cannot be mitigated by one person.  Combating a virus requires collective action, recognition of science-based evidence, and the ability to accept our limitations as people and as a society.  Many people ask, how can it be that people that voted for Barack Obama would vote for Donald Trump?  I actually think it is quite simple and can be summed up in two words: hero worship.


"Change we can believe in" is a snappy political slogan, but hopes and beliefs do not mitigate the spread of viruses and they certainly don't change political realities.  During an Obama political rally I attended in Boston in 2008, I remember listening intently to his message and thinking that it was inspirational on the one hand, but aspirational on the other.  So what's the problem with that?  Well, for one, aspirations are wishes, and sure we all have wishes, but wishes don't pay the bills.  In his speech, Obama said: "I believe in opportunity and I believe in upward mobility.  I do not believe that should just be a myth.  I don't think it should just be a fluke.  When I see the CEOs making more in 10 minutes than workers make in a year, and CEOs get the tax breaks, and the workers are left holding the bag, I will insist that the economy is out of balance and that we have to change it."


The problem is, while some half-measures were taken, income earned by the top 10% of earners during Obama's tenure actually increased (see attached table). Obama was, in a sense, the perfect politician, i.e., ambitious and aspirational in his message, but measured and compromising in his implementation.  As I like to say, thoughts and prayers never cure cancer.  The same holds true for politics.  Hope and belief does not change the political status quo--it requires grit and saying and doing things that can be very unpopular (66% of Americans had an unfavorable view of Martin Luther King at the time of his death). The result of dashed hopes is cynicism, and for Trump that was almost as potent a political fuel as hard currency, especially in the rust belt areas of the US that are critical for victory in Presidential elections.  That said, Obama was a politician dealt a quite difficult hand, and while that does not absolve him of missteps, it does help explain why certain compromises were made.


During this little thought exercise, I have come up with what IMHO is a more sobering political slogan: "Insist and verify". Whatever your political stripe is, if you want action to take place, don't believe--determine what you want, demand it, and make sure whoever it is, whether it is Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or a locally elected political official that you verify, verify, verify.

What political issues are most important to you and what do you plan to do about it?


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