Bring It On!

Myth and Magical Thinking

September 11th, 2008 | by Dr. Forbush |

Since the nomination of Sarah Palin as the new standard barer of the Republican Party I have been struggling with a way to collect my thoughts and express them in a coherent way. I have been struck with many emotions and thoughts as the activities have played out over the last two weeks. Each time I considered writing something, but I couldn’t quite express the problem that my intuition told me was there.

Well, I don’t know if this will be any better than the collection of all those thoughts, but at least I believe that I have a context in which I can discuss them.

In order to explain this let me bring you back to 2003 and the first few weeks of the Iraq invasion. During that time the administration and the defense department were searching for heroes. If they didn’t find them, then they seemed to create them and put those stories out there with very little truth in advertising. Recall the story of Jessica Lynch. The first story put out by the US military and hyped by the administration was that Jessica Lynch was a determined fighter firing her weapon until it was empty defending the rest of her convoy until what she assumed would be certain death. What a great hero story for the military and the administration to use to defend their invasion of a sovereign nation (similar to the Russian invasion of Georgia a few weeks ago). Would we be more willing to support the Russian invasion if we were told of heroic Russian soldiers doing what this mythical Jessica Lynch did in Iraq? What if we heard about another heroic Jessica Lynch fighting along side the Russians in Georgia? What if we were told that the Georgians were terrorists and not the fledgling Democracy being attacked by the great bear Russia? I am not suggesting any of these things are true, but rather that we have a tendency to believe what our leaders tell us whether they are true or not.

Eighty percent of the American public now recognizes that the Bush administration lied to us about something during the last eight years. I am being generous here to make a point. I don’t want to argue these statistics, but rather the fact that the majority (over 50%) recognize that their leaders have lied to them about something during the last eight years. I could guess that the other 20% might agree that Bill Clinton lied about something during his administration. Therefore I would put forward the postulate that everyone in America agrees that their leaders have lied to them at some point in the last 16 years. I would like to conclude that we should expect them to lie to us in the future — whether they are from your favorite political party or the other one.

So, if we know that our leaders lie to us, then why do we succumb to these lies so easily when they seem to be so outrageous on the surface?  Obviously American culture, like many cultures, is romantic toward the hero and is open to stories of the true hero. We desire a hero at every level as some type of supernatural identification. We were all drawn to the story of Michael Phelps winning those eight record breaking gold medals. Wasn’t he just as heroic in Athens when he won six gold and two bronze? Imagine if his teammate Jason Lezak, whom gets very little recognition compared to Michael, wasn’t able to beat the French swimmer Alain Bernard. Imagine if Michael hadn’t been able to out touch Milorad Cavic by that hundredth of a second? Would he still be on the talk show circuit? These tiny intricate details are the evidence that makes an American Hero authentic.

America loves their heroes! But those heroes certainly need to be authentic. Imagine a mythical America where the news of the Olympics was filtered through the Republican Party. Imagine Michael Phelps losing those two races in the real world - would the Republican Party be tempted to create the Michael Phelps hero by altering the Olympic information? If politics depended on those results, then perhaps they would go that far.

We can look at the current presidential race and see those actions in play. The Republicans found the unfamiliar Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin and they have opted to mold her into the hero that the American people are so easily drawn to. Since so little is known about her they can paint a picture of her with little chance of Americans learning the truth. Some of the things they tell us are bound to be true. Every true thing they tell us lends credibility to the lies that they tell.

This is like the story of Jessica Lynch. There was a thread of truth in the story. She was in a gun battle and she was taking from the scene of the battle. The lies of her story hang on these loose threads. It was more exciting to tell us about her gunfight. There were no witnesses to tell us that she didn’t fire her weapon. Even when she regained her senses, she didn’t remember any gun fight. When the Iraqis finely told their story we learn that she was taking to a hospital — not kidnapped. No one guarded her except the doctors, and she wasn’t held against her will. Those lies, however, were necessary to paint the picture of the hero.

Well, Sarah Palin is not really the hero that the McCain campaign is telling us that she is. She was a mayor of a small town. She was elected governor after defeating a corrupt Republican in the primary. That corruption might have played into the election win. And, Alaska isn’t exactly a bastion of liberals, so her win in the general election wasn’t all that surprising. But, the McCain campaign is creating a hero out of the clay of this little known politician. And they are doing this by putting forward outright lies and deceptions. They tell us that she was against that notorious “Bridge to Nowhere,” when she actually supported it until the national media picked up on this huge pork barrel project. And, what is even more dishonest is that fact that she tells us that she said thanks, but no thanks to that federal money implying that she wouldn’t accept the federal money. However, she took the money anyway, and put it into the general fund. If the issue is wasting money, then this means that she is just wasting it on some other pork project instead. And now we don’t even know where our money went.

This dishonesty about the McCain-Palin ticket builds on so many other threads of truth. The image that they wish to build is a duo of heroes fighting for America — but the truth isn’t that simple. John McCain may have been heroic in Vietnam, but that doesn’t mean that he has always been heroic. Republicans might like to believe that John McCain has always stood up for America, but the falsehood and deception that his campaign is currently hurling at the Obama campaign tarnishes that image. Doesn’t an American hero triumph by virtue of his truth over the enemy’s deception? I believe that the maverick that I have admired in the past has currently succumb to the seduction of political power. The illusion of heroic honesty and straight talk is no longer valid. I believe that the lesson he learned from the 2000 Republican primary was that honesty is no longer the best policy.

The truth is that the Republican political machinery is inherently dishonest and deceptive. John McCain may have won the Republican primary in an honest battle for the nomination. But, now that he is the nominee he has inherited the smear machine. And, as evidence of his non-maverick stature he hasn’t done anything to temper this evil in the Republican Party.

Barrack Obama offers us another version of the American Hero. Barack was a hero that sacrificed for his community in another way. Instead of being a military hero that fought in a foreign war, he went to battle against the status quo. When society found itself comfortable keeping the poor in their place he went out to organize that community. In these poor neighborhoods many people do manual labor for minimal wages. Opportunity in these places like the south side of Chicago are extremely rare. Gathering consensus and fostering leadership grants political power to these people. When the people do not know that they have rights, then they are less likely to seek them. Barrack Obama sacrificed his personal wealth for this community. He obviously didn’t sacrifice to the same extent that Mother Theresa had in her lifetime, but he also hasn’t claimed that he has sacrificed to this level.

In the end the choice is a collective decision of the American people. In the past we have made both good and bad choices. We have a tendency to look for the hero to fight the good fight for us. Barack Obama has demonstrated that he is willing to sacrifice his personal wealth for his community and in an extension of that sacrifice for his country because our country is a collection of communities. John McCain has sacrificed earlier in his life when he fought in the military for his country. In reality both McCain and Obama are offering us an opportunity to choose that hero. The job of the American people is to determine which vision offered is the Authentic American Hero.


Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit


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