Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wise and Powerful Leaders ?

The last time I got really worked up over a presidential election was 1984, when Ronald Reagan was re-elected president. I was a freshman in college, and completely, 100% convinced (along with a majority of my classmates) that Reagan was the dumbest, laziest, worst president in history. I was stunned on election night to see that the rest of America (except Minnesota and Washington, DC) disagreed.

My political views have changed a lot since then; mostly, I'm a lot more skeptical-- of the rhetoric from both Lefties and Righties, of course, but I'm also much more skeptical of the whole notion that our Wise and Benevolent Leaders will guide us safely through whatever crisis is currently worrying us.

Yes, it matters who we choose as president. But I believe it matters a whole lot less than we think.

We have a powerful need to feel like somebody is in control, and I think our pattern-matching brains are eager to congratulate or blame whoever happens to be "in charge" when good or bad things happen. God or the Devil. Reagan or Carter.

We're generally too busy or too lazy to figure out what our leaders actually do control, and we seem to be unwilling to admit that large parts of our lives are outside of anybody's control. So we continue to trust that we can build levees to protect our cities from mother nature and elect politicians who we trust will appoint wise bureaucrats who will keep our skies and borders and food safe. Elect the right people, we think, and everything will be perfect.

So: I'm not particularly worked up about this presidential election. I'm going to vote for Obama, because one of the things that the president certainly does control is the US military, and I think Barack will use the military more wisely than McCain. I hope that he will restore some of the checks and balances we've lost since the 9/11 tragedy; the real brilliance of our system of government isn't that we've had particularly Wise and Benevolent leaders; it's that we have a system that works pretty well even if the people in it are imperfect (as we all are).

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