Saturday, September 13, 2008

Are Republicans falling into the hubris trap? Or, pride goeth before a fall

Interestingly, the two concepts in my post title have ancient roots. More than twenty-five hundred years ago, the Greeks concluded that overweening pride and arrogance were sins so great that they were worthy of criminal penalties. It upset the polis to have an individual align himself with the Gods.

The Biblical concept of pride leading to personal destruction is also an ancient one, having its roots in Proverbs 16:18 (a Biblical book reputed to originate with King Solomon, almost 3,000 years ago): "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."

In other words, there is absolutely nothing new in the fact that some people, elevated to high position, lose control of their connection to humanity, begin to believe that they are gods or demi-gods and, Icarus-like (to quote another ancient concept), end up plummeting earthward from their artificial heights.

Over the past year, Obama, driven by his internal narcissistic dialogue and buoyed up by apocalyptic levels of worship emanating from the media and the crowd, became the poster boy for hubris and overweening pride. He started to believe his own press. His speeches become more and more unrelated to pragmatic politics, and suggested that he had the magical powers to lower the oceans, clear the air, and bring everlasting peace to mankind. This kind of message would have been a hard sell to the unconverted in any event, but it was made harder by the fact that his implicit faith in his wonderfulness kept stumbling and crashing into his marked ordinariness: his verbal gaffes; his horrible friends; and his bad decisions (one word: Biden).

Once Obama had blown himself up to Olympian proportions, and had shown himself to be devoid of even a smidgen of humility, he made himself an easy target. The McCain campaign gets huge kudos for being bold enough to aim the pin at that target by creating a couple of wonderful ads that showed that Obama was a mere celebrity, full of sound and fury, but signifying (what else?) nothing.

Obama then let any remaining air out of the balloon by giving the most pedestrian of convention speeches. That Obama's oration didn't rise to rhetorical heights might have been forgivable in someone weary from campaign for almost two years, had it not been for the Britney-inspired Greco-Hollywood backdrop and the 38 million souls who tuned into watch this recycled, embittered, mean-spirited and surprisingly boring speech.

And then McCain, showing true fighter pilot instinct, blasted Obama from on high -- and along came Sarah. Conservatives went flipsy-wacky. People are turning out at Republican political rallies in record numbers, polls show that conservatives and independents think she's wonderful, and the blogosphere has gone stratospheric in its praise: she's a natural, she's a political wunderkind, she's real, she's pragmatic, she's a straight shooter, she's a values laden candidate, she has charm, she's the ultimate candidate for women, she's the ultimate counter to feminism, and on and on.

All of which raises the worry that, with Palin, we're heading down the stretch to the same hubris that pretty much predicted Obama's current tumble. Except I think not. I think that there are several good reasons why Grecian hubris and Biblical pride are not going to dictate Palin's (and McCain's) downfall in the next couple of months.

First of all, the time frame is such that it's unlikely that Palin will be able to match Obama's two year long journey of ego inflation and deflation. Even if her ego does go upwards, it's unlikely (especially given her performance to date) that she can amass sufficient gaffes to start the post-inflation humiliation.

Second, while Republicans are thrilled about Palin, she's not feeling the love from the media. Their venom will probably serve two salutary purposes. To begin with, it will backfire nicely by exposing media bias and lies, and by turning Palin into an underdog, an every-woman, for whom voters can root. To see one lone mother attacked by thousands of reporters world wide isn't a fair fight, and you know that Americans, at least, don't like seeing people bullied. Additionally, it will keep Palin's own ego in check. She can't simply relax and bask in her own wonderfulness. Being on the defensive is a good way not to become too proud.

Third, well, I'll leave the third strand to Charles Krauthammer, who was comparing Obama to Reagan -- but I think you can fill Palin's name for Reagan's with the same results:

The problem is that Obama began believing in his own magical powers — the chants, the swoons, the “we are the ones” self-infatuation. Like Ronald Reagan, he was leading a movement, but one entirely driven by personality.

Reagan’s revolution was rooted in concrete political ideas (supply-side economics, welfare-state deregulation, national strength) that transcended one man. For Obama’s movement, the man is the transcendence.

Which gave the Obama campaign a cultlike tinge. With every primary and every repetition of the high-flown, self-referential rhetoric, the campaign’s insubstantiality became clear. By the time it was repeated yet again on the night of the last primary (No. 3), the tropes were tired and flat.

And fourth -- and this may be stretching it -- Palin is a deeply religious person. Hers is manifestly not a lip service religion, but is part of the very fiber of her being. She acknowledges God and knows the vast difference that lies between her, a mere striving mortal, and God.

I can't get into Obama's heart and mind, but his church selection and his words about religion leave me feeling that, for him, religion is a matter of social and political expediency rather than faith. (I may be wrong, but that's how he presents himself and his faith.) I think that's part of why he was comfortable buying into the Messiah identity. He could see himself aligned with the gods, rather than functioning appropriately below them.

Hubris is a real and present danger whenever power, praise and human frailties are allied. I think, though, that Palin has some insulation from the risk -- and certainly enough to carry her through to election day. Poor Obama, did not. And whether he wins the White House or loses it, he's headed for a fall. I can only hope that his fall takes place before November 3, or I fear that, when he does tumble for once and all, he'll take the rest of us with him.


Anonymous said...

Governor Palin has had approval ratings above 80% in Alaska for her entire time as governor, two years running, now. She's shown no sign of letting it go to her head.

The best of us can always be brought down by pride. No one is immune. It takes strong values to avoid that fate. I continue to think Governor Palin is rock-solid; I think she'll continue to relate to the voters and ramp up their excitement, without letting it go to her head.

She'll simply continue to say that she'll head to Washington D.C. with a humble, servant's heart, committed to doing everything in her power to improve the lives of the American people.

What won't she say? She won't say that Now Is The Time, with Her Election, when the Oceans Dropped, and the planet healed. Behold His/Her Mighty Power! She won't tell you that a light from above will suddenly appear all about you, and you will experienced an Epiphany From On High, telling you, Yes, You must Vote For Obama/Sarah!

No... I think I can guarantee you... she won't go there.

~Mike Devx

Anonymous said...

Christianity has the Seven Deadly Sins and Pride is always listed first. Pride and the idea that one is a above the masses does not go over well in America. One reason that Ronald Reagan was so popular was that his pride was not overweening. He took his ideas very seriously, but not himself and he was the first to make a joke at his own expense.

Governor Palin comes across as someone like that. Senator Obama seems humor challenged. Goodness knows his followers do.


TheMassMouth said...

Hey all, yes I've been missing. Medical issues. Not fun, but they are solved now.

I fear that the tidal wave of mud hurled at Sarah Palin has left its mark. As they used to say, "throw enough mud and some is bound to stick."

Which puts the ball squarely in Big Mac's corner. And so far he has handled the ball extremely well. His comments are pointed; his accusations passionate. More and more he sounds like Harry Truman and / or T. R. And if his comment about the economy being fundamentally sound was easy for B. O. to swat back, we know what he meant: that the troubles in the financial sector are just that: financial sector troubles. Huge but sectorized.

Suggestion for reform: have the Fed apply the margin rules governing stock purchases to purchases of mtg-backed securities and other derivatives. The current difficulties arise from an over-reliance on leverage. Capital to debt ratios of 30 to 1, 35 to 1, even 40 to 1 and 45 to 1, are insane. What sort of financial executive would put his company at such level of risk ? Myself, I'd like to see the Fed impose margin rules of AT LEAST 10 %, maybe even 25 %, on purchases of derivatives and credit default swaps. 4 to 1 is leverage enough !

The Vegas Art Guy said...

And her faith in God resembles Reagan's as well. When he was shot, he was praying to survive when he realized that he had to forgive the mixed up young man who had pulled the trigger before he could pray for his own recovery.