The Image of Greatness Is Not Greatness
I don’t know if stunned is the proper word, because I’ve become a little too cynical for stunned, but certainly I’m amazed at how this administration regularly talks about their image and controlling their image and polishing their image, as though it meant something substantive.
This president has just discovered poverty as if it were some secret being kept from him, which, now that I think about it, might not be all that far from correct. Remember his Dad, nonplussed by bar-codes in the super-market? It makes on wonder if we can really afford presidents who have lived their lives in the bubble.
John Stuart Mill, a nineteenth century philosopher and economist, said “Men are men before they are lawyers, or physicians, or merchants, or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men, they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers or physicians.” It becomes painfully obvious that a man or an institution or a business based on the image of capability and dedicated to the image of sensibility, will leave us nothing more than smoke and mirrors. For the real thing we must go elsewhere.
The question is where does one go when government has failed?
I think we go where we have gone before in earlier times of financial or spiritual collapse, to each other. Those who believe in this government tighten their lips, turn to each other for comfort and wait for the bad times to pass. Those who don’t believe or who did and no longer do, turn to each other with raised eyebrows and hunker down to wait for an opportunity at the polls. We commiserate with our kind, compare notes with those who agree with us, preach to our own choirs and compare our individual sacred images.
Yes, images. We understand our world by image, even as we denigrate the image-makers. We have an idea of ourselves, we Americans and what else is an idea of ourselves but an image? Our American image is that of power and justice, opportunity and equality, faith and patience. Those are precisely the mental pictures of our elemental nature that are so shattered when reality intrudes with photographs of Abu Ghraib or the SuperDome and we automatically react by unrealistic support or unrealistic blame, depending on our image of American leadership.
It’s complicated stuff, these reactions by gut instead of intellect. We write commentaries like this out of intellect but they are inspired by gut. I am tempted to say there is no intellect without gut, but I haven’t thought that one out very well (intellect) and so my concern is that it will be disproved in a thousand ways (gut). Today we’re at a turning point in American politics, that tipping of balance between approval and disapproval, when an elected government loses the support of the majority.
There are two possible remedies to that situation. One is to change the substance of political direction and the other is to change the image. This government has apparently chosen the latter and who can really blame them? It’s a faster fix and time is not on their side. And yet . . . and yet, history will prove again, as it always does . . .
. . . the image of greatness is not Greatness.