The Politician as Superman

It was November 6, 1990. I was sitting outside a campaign “victory” party, in the dark. Just about everyone else had left, since the candidate hadn’t actually won. As I sat there drinking from a bottle of champagne, and smoking a cigar, the campaign manager came out, and immediately asked me what I was doing. “Drinking and smoking,” I replied. “How can you do that? He didn’t win,” he said incredulously. I took a drag on the cigar, and calmly said “Nicht so etwas wie Übermenschen.” He asked me again, and while I knew he didn’t understand my reply because it was in German, I repeated myself.

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“Nicht so etwas wie Übermenschen.”

Finally, the campaign manager asked what he should have, “What does that mean?”

“There is no such thing as Superman.”

The campaign manager didn’t get what I said, and flew off on a tirade about what had gone wrong with the campaign. He blamed himself, the voters, and me, in turns, looking for a scapegoat to blame for the failure. I sat there, and calmly watched him go through those contortions, drinking the champagne, and finishing the cigar. “Stop,” I said. “You’ve blamed everyone except the one that really is at fault.” He shut up, and looked at me quizzically. “I told you from the beginning that your man wasn’t a good candidate. He was a hard-sell, at best, for the office. The campaign failed because the candidate couldn’t be sold to the voters.”

I dropped the mostly empty champagne bottle in the trash, and walked away, because I simply couldn’t listen to anymore. It was yet another true-believer that refused to see a candidate for what he really was. The man was hopelessly flawed, and the only reason I’d even involved myself in the campaign in the first place was that I owed someone a favor. In all honesty, I’d begged to repay that favor any other way, because I didn’t want to be associated with that candidate. I’d managed to keep myself in the background, and when I showed up at the victory party, the only people that recognized me as a member of the campaign staff were the candidate and the campaign manager. As far as I know, it’s remained that way all these years – I still don’t name this one to anyone when listing campaigns I’ve worked.

And it’s appropriate that I use the example of a nameless fool running for office right now. While he’s the extreme, the fact is that every candidate is flawed. There is no Superman. People turning politicians into celebrities feeds a need to put people up on pedestals. But, the result is that eventually the people figure out that those people really don’t deserve that treatment in the first place, and necessarily can’t live up to the high expectations placed on them. Now, I pointed out the flawed nature of a couple politicians, and the fact that another writer was giving them too much credit in the strategy department. That ticked off at least one person, and that made me think about this unnatural desire to treat politicians like demi-gods.

I’m using that term now intentionally, because I actually want to make all those God-fearing, flag-waving patriotic conservatives out there to think twice about how they are acting now. Yes, we need solidarity, but not blindness. Politicians are human beings, and therefore, are imperfect. They make mistakes. Hiding that fact doesn’t help. Deifying current and past conservative politicians does us absolutely no good. Pretending that George W. Bush didn’t overspend during his tenure is a mistake, and the Obama camp is exploiting it daily. Pointing out that Bush screwed up by outing Valerie Plame removes the ability of the left to justify the current leaks that appear to be coming from the White House.

One rule applies in all of this. Every mistake a previous politician makes that is overlooked by adoring voters is increased by someone else later. Nixon was spying on the opposition, and it cost him the White House. Now? It’s commonplace. While it hasn’t happened yet, you can be certain that thanks to Bill Clinton and John Edwards for two, marital infidelity will not be a big problem for future politicians. As long as we don’t call our leaders on their mistakes, and hold them accountable in some way, they will continue to make bigger mistakes than their predecessors. It’s like dealing with toddlers – they keep testing the limits, and keep pushing, no matter what.

There is a fine line between solidarity and blind faith. I have been berated many times for pointing out mistakes made by conservative politicians, and accused of being part of the opposition, or at the very least, a disloyal conservative. The latest was someone saying I was wrong for pointing out that Sarah Palin said something stupid – outrageous, and made-for-TV, but still stupid. She was the one who made the statement, and I didn’t bother to pick on a liberal instead. Ignoring stupidity only encourages more of the same. If we don’t hold politicians accountable, then why are we bothering in the first place?

It is the height of hypocrisy. Conservatives scream that liberals are destroying this nation, and one of the primary reasons why we say this is happening is the fact that liberals do not hold their leaders accountable for their actions. They are failing to call Obama on his mistakes, blindly following him in spite of them. How are we any better if we are doing the same with our leaders? Again, “nicht so etwas wie Übermenschen.”

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Liz Harrison (twitter: @GoldwaterGal)

Liz is a mostly-retired veteran political campaign worker, wife, mom, opinionated gal, fiscal conservative, anti-social-conservative, atheist, and foreign affairs/Mid-East politics junkie.

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