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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Expecting the Worst, Hoping For the Best

Expecting the Worst, Hoping For the Best

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Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children, and our sins lay on the king!

Henry V, IV.iii.116-118

I expect to be disappointed by the next president. This expectation does not detract from my admiration for him or my good wishes for his administration.

It is impossible for office-holders, especially presidents, to live up to the hopes and expectations that are raised about them. For one thing, presidential elections are so highly symbolic that they inevitably embody more ideas and aspirations than can rationally be instantiated in practical political terms. Obama, for example, stands for "change," an abstract concept whose real-world permutations are different for nearly every person who thinks about it. If he fulfills my fantasy of "change," then he probably disappoints yours.

Secondly, most of what presidents accomplish is accomplished through the cooperation of others, especially members of Congress, state governors, the heads of independent agencies such as the Federal Reserve, and those who control large business enterprises. Each of these persons has his or her own agenda, and very few of them will agree 100% with everything the president wants to do. Members of the House of Representatives, in particular, must run for office biennially, and their constituents are most concerned with what the Representative did for his/her own district in particular. This is why the complaints against "pork-barrel spending" ring so hollowly -- a member of Congress has to bring back some federal assistance to the district, or s/he won't be reelected. Consequently, even a president who embodied my political ideals completely would inevitably disappoint me, because he'd be realistically unable to make those ideals a reality.

Thirdly, there are limits to how much a government can do in any particular area. At this moment in history most citizens put the economy at the top of their political agenda. But how much effect on an economy does the federal government really have? Certainly the Federal Reserve can alter its monetary policy, certainly the government can create new programs or alter regulations, but I am skeptical that these things have much overall influence on the economy.

Fourthly, the things that move me politically -- social issues around race/sex/sexuality, prevention of theocracy and, in recent years, the elimination of carbon-based fuels and the dissolution of the shackles to creativity that are now called "copyright" -- are not the things that move most voters. It is unlikely that there will ever be a president who agrees with me on all, or even most, of those issues. It's hard even to find senators and representatives to agree with me. So I can't expect my hopes to be fulfilled by this president or any.

Finally, public officials are human beings, with frailties like the rest of us. There is a popular desire either to deify or to demonize our leaders -- to think of them either as perfect or as monsters. Perhaps they do not all display their weaknesses as flamboyantly as Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton did, but those weaknesses are there and will, inevitably, be revealed. And even those characteristics that are virtues under one set of circumstances may turn out to be vulnerabilities under others. For example, Barack Obama is praised for his coolness and deliberation, his ability to think rationally in emotionally charged circumstances; this is a virtue in many, maybe most, situations. But the day may come where this feature of his personality works against him, rather than for him.

There was never a president who didn't disappoint me, nor a governor, nor any other prominent leader. I don't think it's possible to avoid disappointment. But I do think that it's possible to hope for the best, to work to make the next steps whatever they are, as successful and beneficial as possible.

"Pessimist by policy, optimist by temperament." Robert Heinlein (with whom I shared no political views at all) once said that, and it still seems like good advice.
  • Well nothing can be the way we want. That's why you have checks and balances. That is the way our government works. That is why watered down bills are passed, pork is still doled out, all the while money is printed over and over. Nothing changes no matter which president is in office. We're a nation of "I want this and I want that". You need pork to bring to states that don't have enough jobs. You need to make special interest groups happy...all of them. You need legal decisions to make all groups happy. You need to pay for them, so you print more money.

    There is an unwritten law that there will only be Democrats and Republicans. Each party is ganged up against one another. It is rare any bill the President wants to go though, will go through with out beomg milked down.

    The basic thing that all Americans worry about is the economy. They want to be able to work and feed their family. They don't want to go to the poor house because of accidents or illness. We are a nation of free enterprise. So any soicalization is considered a pariah. Yet some socalization is OK. The money spent for corporate welfare. But big corporations makes the country look good. When a country looks good, it's supposed to be stronger.

    So what will change will be very little. But some Presidents will look better then others while nothing changes. I think that's all any President can hope for. Looking good the presidential library down the road. I wonder what President Bush's library will look like?
    • Hi Rachel.

      I don't think things are quite that bleak. But I agree that it's much harder to change things for the better than to change them for the worse.
  • I think this is the first time I can actually say I agree with your entire political post, being that we're practically at opposite ends of the political spectrum. But I find your thoughts rational and logical and realistic, and I concur. (I have a feeling this is the last time I will be able to say that. :) )
    • Thanks, Annette! And don't be such a pessimist -- If you agree with me now, that means that we'll probably agree whenever we're both being dispassionate and careful. The problem with my LJ political postings (except for the cartograms) is that they're usually written in the heat of passion or else on the spur of the moment. But I've been thinking about this post for over a month, and wrote it over several hours (in stages, between grading student projects :P).

      It's great to hear from you. How are you?
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