Beware the Cult of Personality
I have mixed emotions about Sarah Palin’s announcement that she won’t be running for the presidency. Though she would not have been my top choice had she entered the fray, she at least would have been in the portion of the field that I am still considering voting for (with Perry, Cain, Santorum and Gingrich). She would have provided a change of pace from the rest of the crop of candidates. And, frankly, I like her and think she’s a much more insightful and perceptive person than given credit for. But I am not convinced that her time is now, so it’s probably for the best that she is not part of the conversation for 2012.
One of the fascinating things in watching the conservative end of the blogosphere over the past few months is the intense reaction that Palin sparks. Of course there are her detractors, both right and left. Some of these individual – in particular the wannabe gynecologists – border on the pathological. There are valid criticisms to be levied against Palin, but I’ve seen otherwise reasonable people turn into irrational cranks when it comes to her. She may not have been the best candidate for president, but she is not quite the manipulative, dumb, vacuous or whatever adjective you want to throw out there individual that her most vocal critics have portrayed her as being.
On other hand her core group of supporters have become a tad unhinged. That sentence above that began “there are valid criticisms to be levied against Palin” – well, that’s practically heresy in the eyes of some of her more fervent supporters. I’ve seen the most modest of critiques brutally attacked by Palinistas. Heck, I’ve seen non-critiques like “I don’t think she’s running” engender the kind of backlash normally reserved for, say, Michael Moore. It’s become so that any non-positive reference to Palin is greeted with the same kind of mass hysteria previously reserved for Ron Paul and his minions.
It has gotten to the point where I’d say that Palin’s biggest asset are our her enemies, and her biggest liability are her fans.
Now, I can cut Palin fans some slack as they are in part reacting to the ridiculous caricatures and misrepresentations of her character floating around out there, so I understand their sensitivity. But it’s a dangerous thing to become so enamored of a political figure that you throw reason right out the window.
Put your trust not in princes. It’s a biblical injunction that we ought to heed. We’ve seen what happens when a large segment of the population treats a political figure as the Messiah, and we’re working to clean up that mess right now.
The cult of personality works in both directions, however. If we intensely build up an individual then we open ourselves to immense disappointment when that mere mortal inevitably lets us down and fails to totally meet our every expectation. I think one of the reasons that conservatives are disappointed in the current crop of presidential candidates is because we’re looking for a superman who can be perfect ideologically, intellectually, and in every other facet. It’s as though conservatives want the idealized Ronald Reagan and then some. So what happens is that this or that candidate becomes the savior – a la Barack Obama – and as soon as he or she falters, then it’s off to the next political messiah.
We’re not electing a political savior; rather, we’re electing someone to head up the executive branch of government. Sure we should strive to find the best candidate possible, but expecting there to be someone who is just an immaculate dreamboat is only going to lead to disappointment. In fact I think the endless pursuit of purity and perfection could lead to the nomination of a candidate who is even further from our ideal.
So temper that enthusiasm, because endless devotion to any one politician can only end badly.