Obama will give his acceptance speech tonight in Invesco Field in front of 80,000 fans. The New York Times wonders how he can handle this crowd without looking even more like a worshiped celebrity. The Washington Post plays up the significance of the date, the 45th anniversary of minister Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. It’s a lot to live up to and lot to live down to. George Will suggests it’s time for Obama to start getting into particulars. I have a better idea: pass out a copy of Gene Healy’s latest op/ed to everyone who enters the stadium:
Humility is hard to discern on the modern campaign trail. If our presidential candidates seem to embrace an exalted notion of their status, perhaps that’s a function of the adulation they’re greeted with by the crowds at campaign appearances. A recent feature in The New York Times described the prevailing atmosphere: “Look at the faces – not of the candidates, but of the rope-liners themselves, with arms and fingers extended, their eyes bugged and sometimes tearful.” “I got to smell him, and it was awesome,” exclaimed Kate Homrich, who managed to get close to Obama at one campaign rally. Another, Bonnie Owens, got a finger-pinch from the Illinois senator: “Best experience of my life,” she declared.
And it’s not just voters at campaign rallies who fall prey to presidential idolatry. If anything, American political elites – pundits, talking heads, and presidential scholars – are worse. When President Bush traveled to Blacksburg, Va. to offer comfort after the April 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, David Gergen, adviser to one Democratic and three Republican presidents, commented, “At times like this, [the president] takes off his cap as commander in chief and puts on the robes of consoler in chief.” Leon Panetta, former chief of staff to President Clinton, went even further: “In many ways, [the president] is our national chaplain.” […]
An increasing number of Americans worry that the presidency has grown too big, too powerful, and too menacing. Yet we also want the government – chiefly, the president – to “do more.” And when terror strikes, hurricanes ravage, homes foreclose, the stock market drops, and food prices rise, we inevitably blame one person: the president.
Investing our lives with hope, uniting us all behind a higher calling, fixing our “broken” souls – none of this is remotely the president’s business. It’s not surprising that presidential contenders cater to our contradictory expectations. That’s the business they’re in. But if we’re unhappy with the results, we ought to recall the wisdom contained in the Pogo Principle: “we have met the enemy and he is us.”
So long as we embrace – or even tolerate – the idea that the president is the guardian of our national soul, we have little right to complain about our burgeoning Imperial Presidency.
Read the whole thing here.