George Hasara – Columnist
It’s been said that Americans don’t elect presidents, they elect saviors. Democratic presidential front runner Joe Biden recently commented during a campaign stop, “I promise you, if I’m elected president, you’re going to see the single most important thing that changes America. We’re going to cure cancer.” I suppose if you are going to promise the impossible, you might as well go big. A cure (presumably including all of the 100-plus different types of cancer) would prevent millions of untimely deaths and untold suffering throughout the world. It would be a wondrous thing, if only.
In all fairness, Biden isn’t the first to suggest saint-like qualities for the presidency. During the 2004 election, Democratic VP candidate John Edwards proclaimed that diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s could be cured if the right team was voted into office. The other team however, won the selection, and the miracle cure predictions remained unfulfilled.
Perhaps no other president is praised and revered by conservatives more than Ronald Reagan. However, his impassioned promises of drastic cuts in big government and a balanced budget never materialized. Government spending, annual deficits, and the national debt all climbed to new highs.
It would be hard to find a more stirring example of a messianic message than Barack Obama’s 2008 primary campaign victory speech. The then U.S. senator said, “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
As impressive as the rhetorical skills of a Reagan or an Obama (and their speech writers) might be, a president by himself does not have the ability to deliver on overarching promises of a “better country,” let alone a “better world.” A U.S. president may be the most powerful person in the world, but that is only in a potentially destructive sense. The position, especially in military and international matters has over the years, morphed into the “imperial” presidency. Sanctions, embargoes, bombings, and invasions are no longer restrained by the Constitution or by Congress. Rather than a savior, the commander-in-chief can be more aptly compared to Shiva the Destroyer.
The two-party system, made up of two corporations, perpetuates itself by insisting that the nation needs deliverance from the other side. So, it’s no surprise that savior types are generated. They and they alone are the missing piece of the puzzle that can make the country whole again, at least until the next election cycle.
This elevation of the presidency as some kind of mini-monarchy is to blame for a great deal of our current civil strife. Presidents progressively have taken on cult-like support as well as cult-like opposition. I don’t recall any fights ever breaking out because someone wore a Jimmy Carter or a Gerald Ford button. Carter’s 1976 campaign slogan of “Not Just Peanuts” makes me yearn for a more mundane time when we weren’t so much in need of being saved from ourselves.
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