Friday, June 08, 2007

The Gratuitous Humiliation of our Would-be Kings

Charles Krauthammer gives two-and-a-half cheers for our seemingly endless political primaries:
In Britain, Canada, and other civilized places, national elections are often called, run, and concluded within six weeks. In America, election campaigns go on forever.

While we can grow weary of the endless stumping, it does serve a purpose:
The final function of the endless campaign, and perhaps the most psychologically important, is to satisfy the American instinct for egalitarianism. We have turned the presidential campaign into a pleasingly degrading ordeal — pleasing, that is, to the electorate. The modern presidential campaign is meant to be physically exhausting and spiritually humbling almost to the point of humiliation. Candidates spend two years and more on bended knee begging for money, votes, and a handshake in a diner.

Why do we inflict such cruel and unusual punishment? Because our winner is not just chief magistrate but king. True, the kingship is temporary, but its glories and perks are beyond compare — the pomp and pampering of a head of state, married to the real political power of controlling the most important state on the planet.

The bargain we offer the candidate is this: We will make you Lord, circling celestially above us on Air Force One, but because we are flinty Jeffersonian yeomen, we insist that you flatter us first with a very extended show of camaraderie and commonality with the Iowa farmer, the New Hampshire alderman and the South Carolina good ol’ boy. Aboriginal tribes have slightly different rituals for those who pretend to kingship, but the idea is the same: ordeal before dominion.
As similar thought concerning local politics is expressed in this cartoon by David Horesly:

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