For All the King's Kroner: A Question of Leadership and Politics
Is it time that we have a national discussion on leadership and viable political discourse in America? Given political dysfunctionality in Washington, economic uncertainty ailing everyday citizens, and recent headlines that illustrate sensitive divisions in the US, perhaps a bit more effective and credible leadership in the nation and in the rest of the world would go a long way.
I. The Presidency, Politics, and Pondering
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan had a very interesting article on March 30, 2012 discussing how Pres. Obama is "increasingly [coming] across as devious and dishonest." Noonan: "Something's happening to President Obama's relationship with those who are inclined not to like his policies. They are now inclined not to like him." Noonan's eloquent analysis laid bare the emerging Zeitgeist in American society regarding political frustration aimed at Washington.
Noonan wrote, "What is happening is that the president is coming across more and more as a trimmer, as an operator who's not operating in good faith. This is hardening positions and leading to increased political bitterness." Noonan cited the recent debacle regarding the Catholic Church and birth control as demonstrating the president's "devious" response to public concerns. Noonan: "What a sour taste this all left. How shocking it was, including for those in the church who'd been in touch with the administration and were murmuring about having been misled."
Noonan went so far as to say that in light of the recent open-mic conservation with Russian Pres. Dmitry Medvedev, Pres. Obama's behavior has been "creepy." Further, Noonan discussed that Pres. Obama's response to Trayvon Martin's death, though at first "OK -- not great, but all right", eventually "seemed insufficient" as the situation developed. In terms of ObamaCare, Noonan suggested that the Supreme Court's assessment of the law amounted "to a characterological indictment of the administration." Noonan: "The constitutional law professor from the University of Chicago didn't notice the centerpiece of his agenda was not constitutional? How did that happen?"
Looking forward to economic issues in the not-so-distant future, Noonan's analysis portended that political polarization in the US is increasing. Noonan: "I am not saying that the president has a terrible relationship with the American people. I'm only saying he's made his relationship with those who oppose him worse. In terms of the broad electorate, I'm not sure he really has a relationship." Owing to Pres. Obama's health care reform efforts while the American public was concerned with economic calamity, "the relationship the president wanted never really knitted together."
Noonan boldly wrote that "[a]n American president has to make cooperation happen." That being said, "Obama has a largely nonexistent relationship with many, and a worsening relationship with some." Noonan closed in that Pres. Obama really "cannot win the coming election", but the Republicans can still lose it.
"Sour" appears to be a recurring word when it comes to the topic of American politics in the public discourse. Bloomberg's Andrew Theen reported on March 30, 2012 that young adults are becoming apathetic regarding Pres. Obama's reelection efforts. Theen discussed that passionate youth support for Obama "has cooled amid gridlock and partisanship in Washington and a surge in unemployment that is souring young voters." Harvard University's Institute of Politics director of polling John Della Volpe said that the younger generation appears to be "more apathetic" heading into the 2012 election.
Theen's analysis suggested that youth voting turnout will not be as strong in the 2012 election. Theen: "[C]ollege students say they are disillusioned with Washington." To say the least, owing to the gravity of economic problems in the US and societal polarization, apathy among young voters seems to portend societal and political issues in the future. Even aside from apathy, it would appear that many young voters are disappointed with the Obama administration thus far.
MarketWatch's Howard Gold recently wrote that political issues may lead to bumps in the road ahead for the marketplace. In light of the 2011 debt ceiling debacle and the downgrade of US debt, we have seen firsthand how politically ideological polarization can translate into negative economic consequences. While Gold discussed global political concerns in Europe and the Middle East, he also commented that American politics has implications for the stock market. Gold: "A lot can happen between now and November, but if the economy keeps growing, there's no war with Iran, and no big blowback over the likely overturning of key parts of Obamacare by the Supreme Court, the president has a good chance of getting reelected, especially against such a weak opponent." In light of possible tax increases, spending cuts, and another debt ceiling debacle, Gold concluded, "[E]njoy the rally while it lasts, take some profits while you can, and set those acorns aside. Spring is here, but a long, cold winter may be looming."
If Pres. Obama does get reelected, one has to wonder how sour citizens will respond. In light of current events, conservative commentators have recently stepped up outcries against Washington. Whereas Rush Limbaugh voiced concerns on Friday regarding the Supreme Court's decision on ObamaCare, Sean Hannity boldly asked, "Where is our Justice Department?" On Friday, Mark Levin went so far as to say that Pres. Obama should follow his own advice and search his own soul.
From the perspective of conservatives, the current socio-political situation nearly appears to be a Nietzschean twilight of the idols -- philosophizing with a hammer -- testing the sounds of these cultural idols with a hammer as a tuning fork...to the point where the cultural idols are crushed as they are found to be quite hollow. The Supreme Court, Hollywood, Congress, Washington, Wall Street, the GOP, the mainstream media -- cultural idols that conservative commentators are criticizing to the point where each respective institution's legitimacy is now in question in the collective consciousness.
Per the sentiments of conservative commentators, the Supreme Court's ruling on ObamaCare may determine the fates of the US government and the US Constitution. In this sense, the prospect of Mitt Romney's being the Republican nominee only complicates matters -- whereas for some, Romney reeks of big government and crony capitalism. Even aside from the presidency, the Associated Press' Mark Sherman on March 31, 2012 discussed that "the Supreme Court left little doubt during last week's marathon arguments over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul that it has scant faith in Congress' ability to get anything done." Such lack of faith portends negative consequences in this twilight of the idols.
II. Monarchy, Leadership, and Moving Forward
In light of the aforementioned analysis, the current state of public discourse in the US raises serious questions regarding functional leadership going forward. For me, these questions bring to mind the concepts of constitutionalism and monarchy.
The concept of a constitutional monarchy fascinates me in that it is interesting that (even in light of ancient philosophers' ideas) a monarchy can lead to such a diverse range of environments. For example, Thomas More's Utopia is essentially a constitutional quasi-monarchy (or more specifically, a principality) though Utopia is effectively a communalist state. In terms of a monarchy, we find absolute monarchies in countries like Saudi Arabia and Brunei, and yet we also see Nordic welfare state constitutional monarchies in countries like Sweden and Denmark. In looking at differences between countries like Thailand and Norway, we can see that monarchism in the modern world is a road that can lead to very different destinations. Thus, as philosophers like Plato and Aristotle discussed, the establishment of monarchy can lead to a range of political systems.
Of course, under a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy, a king or queen is more or less a symbolic or ceremonial position with little or no political power. Nevertheless, I think the symbolic and ceremonial status of a king or queen can be beneficial for a nation. Maybe a Christmas or New Year's speech from a king or queen can help to boost national unity or morale, to give the country a sense of functional direction. In particular, for a country like Sweden or Denmark, the monarch can be a strong national symbol. On the other hand, the actions of a royal family could be a source of national embarrassment or even pain.
An interesting perspective on monarchism is that of the family being a model for the state. In this sense, a king is the head of a country as a father is the head of a family. If we follow along with this analogy, familial dysfunctionality could possibly lead to government dysfunctionality. Might there then be some connection between changing marital and family patterns in the US and perceived political dysfunctionality in Washington?
With this in mind, America's current political problems could be seen as being rooted in sentiments going all the way back to the American Revolution -- a sort of historical "bad karma" -- that initial "adolescent rebellion" against the parent, the United Kingdom. Akin to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, America could be seen as the younger son rebelling against the wealthy father -- Canada could then be considered the older son who remained loyal in the bosom of the father. Interestingly, one has to wonder if Canada, the loyal son, is now in a better position. Of course, the story of Britain and America does not completely equate to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but I think the analogy can help to illuminate interesting dimensions to ongoing social and political problems in the US.
It is interesting to note that Founding Father Alexander Hamilton advocated for a monarchical system in the US -- where the elected president would serve for life and could be removed for corruption or abuse. Hamilton seems to have supported establishing a monarchical political system in a nation that rejected the British Crown, and yet his face found its way on the 10 dollar bill. And though the idea of monarchy may seem distant from contemporary American politics, there remain clear shadows of a subtle desire for some form of monarchical leadership in American society.
The phenomenon of the Kennedy family, which has been regarded as a quasi-royal family in the US, supports this idea. And perhaps it is just me, but I think there remains a subtle despair owing to the "Kennedy Curse". One has to wonder what sort of country we would be living in if John F. Kennedy, Jr. were still alive and able to run as president. I do think that there is an emerging desire in the American political consciousness that the nation needs a new brand of unifying leadership.
Being one from Northeastern Ohio, an example of the shadow of America's monarchical desires took the form of a basketball player, who decided to leave Cleveland in 2010. Though this basketball player was, of course, neither royalty nor a political leader, I do recall months after "the Decision" hearing individuals voice sorrow over the loss of "the king" -- whereas now Cleveland would be a city without a king. It would appear that that loss of "leadership", if only ceremonial or symbolic, can really hurt and can negatively impact a society. And let's not forget that the loss of Cleveland's king has had economic consequences.
Of course, in the case of a constitutional monarchy, royals could be seen as merely cultural entertainment, a subject for tabloids and light dinnertime conversation -- akin to Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or the Kardashians in the US. And were the Kardashian family America's royal family, I have to wonder how many of us would want to emigrate. That being said, I cannot help but feel that American society is hopelessly looking for a renewed sense of national leadership -- a sense of leadership that goes beyond the superficial ideological bickering in Washington, a sense of leadership to unify the country and move forward. In terms of ceremonial royal figureheads, whereas Canadian monarchists may demand Prince Harry to be king, one has to wonder what the US would be like with someone like Queen Rania of Jordan or Princess Madeleine of Sweden as a ceremonial head of state. I'm not saying that having a monarch would solve all our problems; I'm not sure that having a ceremonial figurehead would make too much of a difference. As we see in Spain even a parliamentary democracy/constitutional monarchy can have socio-economic problems, but I do think that Americans are starting to look for intelligent, credible leaders to speak out against social problems while being able to unite the country as a whole.
As for personalities rising up to fill this void in American society, I'm sure many of us could come up with a list. Even then, as ideologically diverse of a society as we are, I'm not too sure that such a list would get us anywhere. One might fear that American society has become so fragmented to the point of going beyond the hope for unifying national leadership. That being said, I am not too certain that we will be any closer to a sense of unifying leadership after the November election, and I think that is a problem. At a time when the nation is looking toward some sense of stability going forward, we need national leaders to step up to bring us back together while respecting individual freedom, not politicians that divide us on superficial levels.
Robust political debate can be healthy, yes, but at some point, we have to learn how to work together and cooperate.
Dare I say it, it's as if we could use some sort of king or queen right now to put things back into balance and get society and the mainstream media back on track. Some sort of leader to point us in a cohesive, consistent direction toward brighter days ahead with a sense of liberty, peace, and civility. Perhaps only then can we hope to move forward in the unified spirit of growth and prosperity. Given the problems this nation faces today and in the months and years to come, the time for national leadership is now.
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