WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN?
No doubt it will, and the anticipation is mounting. But the idealization — the glorification, in some places — is mounting as well. Some can’t wait for it to happen, some dread the moment, some believe it will never occur. Obama, as Newsweek put, is “the one,” inheriting the legacy of every great historical figure: Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy. We seem to need a Saviour right now, and he is the inevitable candidate.
He himself, I suspect, it too smart to go for this, and consciously we are too. But I suspect we don’t know how much we are coming around to buying into into it. A number of pundits thought his choice of Hillary Clinton to head the State Department was the mistake, but that has died down amid the choruses of praise for most of his appointments. More recently, his invitation to the evangelical minister Rick Warren to speak at his inaugural aroused a storm of protest among gays, but that too has died down, as we are reminding ourselves of the importance of tolerating a diversity of voices. In one way, of course, Obama is showing really thoughtful leadership, but how long before he stumbles? Or we allow him to stumble? Or we want him to stumble?
Perhaps I am not the only one to have wondered if the widespread anxiety about his being assassinated masked an underlying desire for him to fall. To be sure, inspiring and charismatic leaders have been assassinated, including, of course, Lincoln and Kennedy. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the role of envy in politics, or simply the underside of idealization and hope. In investing so much in Obama, we might wonder who are we protecting?
He will make mistakes, and we will be disappointed. That simply can’t be helped, and with so many overwhelming problems to solve it is likely to happen soon. But it is not too late now to think about protecting him and us from the backlash of denigration and rage that will accompany those failures and, perhaps, spoil the realistic leadership he is able to offer us.