Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Caudillo

Posted by Gerald on March 9, 2008

If you aren’t familiar with this term, it comes out of South American politics.  It indicates an authoritarian ruler.  The reason I’m bringing this up is that the caudillo usually presented himself as the great man on a white horse who comes to save the day.

Which brings me to the race for President.

Whether Republican or Democrat, man or woman, white or black, our Presidential candidates – and not just in this election cycle – have a whiff of the caudillo about them.  They are going to bring change, or experience, or whatever, to cure the nation’s ills.  Their respective followers and detractors – including me – play the game as well by lionizing or demonizing them by turns.

Isn’t this all a bit anti-democratic?

The reality is that the President, however bad, is never the source of the nation’s ills and however good, is never its savior.  The land and the President are not one, nor should they be.  The major power of the modern Presidency is the ability to motivate people and to focus attention.  To my mind, this was FDR’s great discovery.  The most effective President’s since him have known and used this.  That isn’t about leading or deciding – it is about inspiring.  The problem is that the same fact also makes the Presidency an easy focus for the national mood.  We had a world trade boom in the 1990s that translated into good economic times here at home – for some.  Bill Clinton had precisely nothing to do with that, but is still claiming credit for it.  As much as I hate the current guy and his policies, the current economic woes here have little to do with him.

I’m not trying to suggest the Presidency is meaningless.  As the last eight years have shown, an unengaged President surrounded by self-serving careerists and manipulators can make a bad situation much worse.  On the other hand, wise policies and an engaged President can help extract the maximum benefit out of good situations and can make sure that more people benefit from them.  I’m arguing that the person in that center seat doesn’t so much call the tune as help keep the orchestra on tempo.

As lousy a President as I believe Ralph Nader would be, I absolutely agree with him about one thing.  The Presidential elections are no longer democratic, if indeed they ever were.  I disagree with him about the cause.  I don’t think this is about big whatever or special whosits.

It is about us.

We have created a system through action and through passivity that leaves power in other hands.  We the People want to elect Big Daddy or Big Momma to deal with all the hard stuff so we don’t have to think about that.  It is an absolutely natural thing for people to want to just be left alone to live their lives, the problem is that doing so abrogates the basic responsibilities of free people to determine their own destinies.  We want to be free – but what we usually mean by that is that we want to be free from care and woe.  That is the freedom of childhood.

Ultimately I don’t believe our freedoms are taken away.  We give them up.  We keep looking to “them” to solve the problems – whether the “free market” or God or Science or John/Barak/Hillary/Ralph.  Then we get upset when “they” fail.  The problem is the only solution has always been us.  We are our greatest enemy and only hope.

But still, we are going to remain focused on the speeches and the cheering.  We’ll all pick our person on a horse… and we’ll keep waiting for them to save us.

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3 Responses to “Caudillo”

  1. ChenZhen said

    As much as I hate the current guy and his policies, the current economic woes here have little to do with him.

    Possibly, at least to the point that a trillion dollar war doesn’t start having an effect on the economy.

  2. Gerald said

    I’m sure it will, when that bill comes due. I think this is another example of how bad policy can make things worse. This sort of deficit spending is likely to drive up interest rates in the future and to make credit harder to get. I don’t think it is causing the current problem, but it is likely to make recovery harder and slower. When it comes to the current crunch, I’d argue that everything from the housing debacle to the weakening dollar (which isn’t all bad) have roots going back further than eight years and are symptomatic of wider issues of our consumer culture.

    Even in the area of energy costs, I’d argue that the major thing driving up oil at the moment is growing global demand and fairly static refinery capacity. Again, I’d agree that the war makes it worse, but I’d argue it isn’t the root of the problem. The problem is our unwillingness to alter our culture of consumption or to think in the longer term when making personal choices.

    I’m not trying to let Bush off the hook – I’m just saying he didn’t create the wider problems and he couldn’t have done the damage he has if we the people hadn’t been so willing to let him.

  3. in2thefray said

    The war debt is imaginary money. It’s one of those things that will never be paid off. The Chinese can call the loan all day long we’ll just DeGaulle them.This was a really neat read and agree fully with the premise that we the people must stay engaged no matter who we vote for.

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