I know. We’ve just about had it with the whole fiscal cliff fiasco. Maybe that’s why most of us want the words “fiscal cliff” banned from the English language. We should be frustrated with our national leaders. In the words of my own Congressman LaTourette:
“This is disgusting, and everybody involved should be embarrassed,” said Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), marching glumly from a GOP conference meeting in the House Monday evening. “It’s not even small ball — it’s a pingpong ball,” he said of the latest deal the Senate was working on.
It also raises the frustrating question: where have all our leaders gone? But our well-deserved frustration with our national leaders — of both parties — may foster a desperation more dangerous even than their own fecklessness.
Permit me to explain with a little help from, of all places, Star Wars.
Lessons from Lucas
Heading into the New Year, I decided to spend some time with my boys revisiting the first three films in the Star Wars saga (and by first three I mean the most recent three). The plot, you may recall, revolves around the crumbling of the Republic as wars break out, Congress proves inept and mired in bureacracy, and the people lose confidence in the democratic process. Sounds vaguely familiar.
Eventually, out of frustration with the crippled political process and aided by lies about the Jedi perpetrated by the state-controlled media, the Senate votes to grant the Chancellor dictatorial powers. Out of frustration with their failed leaders, they choose what they think will be the lesser of two evils. They choose safety over risk, security over crisis, and clarity over chaos. Or so they think.
As the Senate grants sweeping power to the Chancellor (actually a dark Sith lord) to a standing ovation, Senator Amidala gives one of most memorable lines ever to come from such an unexpected place: “So this is how liberty dies — with thunderous applause.”
If Only They Had Light Sabers
We should be frustrated with our national leaders. When I think of the ones in charge at the moment, I quickly conclude that we’re scraping the bottom of the leadership barrel. Where have all the leaders gobe? Has the cost in media exposure become so great that our best leaders pass on politics? Are they not getting paid enough to attract the finest talent? Or is it a matter of character and integrity? Do we need statesmen (and woman) instead of politicians?
There is no wisdom in the haphazard way they are leading our nation. Dashing from cliff to cliff, crisis to crisis is not leading. It’s barely governing. It’s like a firefighter dashing back and forth to splash a bucket of water on a wildfire. Our national debt is that wildfire. The wind is picking up, and we’re almost out of water. Soon our leaders will have few options left with which to put out the blaze. But still they run frantically, all the while telling everyone else to remain calm. At least they look busy and that makes for great photo-ops.
Michael Auslin argues that we are “unlearning” government and that A Hail Mary Government Cannot Stand: “Ad hoc government cannot survive, especially if it eats away at and replaces long-established custom, represented by a written constitution.” I think using ad hoc may be generous in describing the rushed 154-page deal that Senators — members of what is allegedly the world’s most distinguished deliberative body [snort] — had only three minutes to review before casting a vote. Senator Paul rightly objected on the grounds that he prefers reading bills, and not passing them, to find out what’s in them.
So This Is How Liberty Dies
Failed leadership creates a vacuum that history tells us will be filled by someone who can lead with a clear sense of direction, even if it’s not exactly the direction we had in mind. Think of the decline of the Roman Republic into chaos as leaders squabbled and bickered everyone into confusion. Out of the chaos emerged a strong leader, a benevolent dictator who would set all right once more in the Empi– oh, I mean Republic.
Failed leadership creates the ideal conditions for tyrrany. It is the cry of tyrants everywhere to promise safety and security in exchange for freedom and opportunity. Hitler did it. And he got away with it largely because the people were so frustrated that they were willing to look the other way if it meant a return to clarity and prosperity. It was as if they had finally found someone who knew what he was doing and could get something — anything — done. So they released their freedoms and breathed a collective, though short-lived, sigh of relief.
I realize I’m painting with broad brush strokes. There were other factors in those situations, as well. But the rise of dictators seems always to come when the people have grown so frustrated with their present failed leadership, that they’re willing to take anybody who can show the way.
Come to think of it, President Obama may be the best of the bunch because he is actually making progress in his agenda. Although I believe that agenda will damage freedom, at least he’s getting stuff done because he believes in his cause. Not sure I can say that about many of the other leaders in Washington.
America may soon reach the point where political freedom — not to mention a trash-laden planet — can be saved only by a spiritual freedom strong enough to say no to false consumer freedoms that lead only to debt and the endless acumulation of junk and waste. ~ Os Guinness
UPDATE: One astute commentator pointed out this perspective from George Lucas on dictators and the US in an interview from the vaults of The New York Times, dated February, 1999. Interesting, it is:
The United States, especially the media, is eating its own tail. The media has a way of leveling everything in its path, which is not good for a society. There’s no respect for the office of the Presidency. Not that we need a king, but there’s a reason why kings built large palaces, sat on thrones and wore rubies all over. There’s a whole social need for that, not to oppress the masses, but to impress the masses and make them proud and allow them to feel good about their culture, their government and their ruler so that they are left feeling that a ruler has the right to rule over them, so that they feel good rather than disgusted about being ruled. In the past, the media basically worked for the state and was there to build the culture. Now, obviously, in some cases it got used in a wrong way and you ended up with the whole balance of power out of whack. But there’s probably no better form of government than a good despot.
Star Wars fans, feel free to respond. So does that mean Disney is now taking over the world?