Watching the media’s anticipation of Obama’s press conference after the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, I was reminded of the great book The Cult of the Presidency by Gene Healy, where he notes the president is now expected to be, among many other things, the Consoler in Chief, our national chaplain in times of great tragedies. The President originally was someone who would simply officiate the congress, which was the main body for enacting legislation. Just as the senate in the Roman Republic ruled, so the founders wanted the congress to rule the country. Early Presidents didn’t propose bold legislation or even really campaign.
It is now the President’s job to grow the economy, teach our children, provide protection from terrorist threats, and rescue Americans from spiritual malaise. It’s an impossible job, yet as our dissatisfaction with the President increases, the amount of power he wields grows. We are morphing towards an emperor, a Putin.
William Hazlit wrote in 1819 that “Man is a toad-eating animal [ie, a toady], naturally a worshipper of idols and a lover of kings.” He saw behind this impulse a crave desire to dominate others, even if only vicariously. “Each individual would (were it in his power) be a a king, a God; but as he cannot, the next best thing is to see this reflex image of his self-love, the darling passion of his breast, realized, embodied out of himself in the first object he can lay his hands on for the purpose.”
It’s not a left-right thing, too many venerate the Elmer Gantrys who become President. Yet a funny anecdote was provided by liberal Nina Burleigh, former White House correspondent for Time magazine, who noted during the Lewinsky scandal that she’d “be happy to give [Clinton oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their presidential knee pads on to show their gratitude for keeping theocracy off our backs.” It’s nice to see her thinking she’s above those who venerate religion, but instead of championing skepticism and rationality, worships the simple hucksters who make all those trite speeches.