Man, His Fame – essay
Nothing ever remains static: the face of the earth changes with seasons and continental shelves move. Such changes take place in matter of time and it goes without saying man is of no exception.Consequently his hopes, fears,- and his glory also vanishes.
Where does that leave those who walked the earth as Colossus? Oh no these days we have US Presidents who may catch media attention even if they just had the most prosaic surgical procedures. I remember Nixon and Lyndon Johnson in this regard. Nixon’s clot (phlebitis, I think it was called) was serious as the appendicitis of the latter. After all the entire nation’s thoughts revolve about them. Every day of their four year term. Whatever they do or say creates plenty of media interest. Their days in office must be seen by all recalling the days when the entire French court watched the Sun King waking up from his ornate bed in Versailles.
What with the mass media and TV we have become a visual generation. Recalling the Andy Warhol quote each of us holds the right to fame though it may be for some fifteen minutes. It may be through reality shows or as a witness in TV coverage for 6 o’clock news. Television has killed the art of conversation and instead we have talking heads whose style and contents are what matter for the ratings. Yes fifteen minutes of fame is enough for the audience whose attention span is correspondingly becoming shorter.
Looking at the appeal of the US Presidents history judges them, as tastes govern the appeal of fashion art and literature.
The Presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829-37) has undergone swings in popularity. Jackson presided over American expansion as well as subjugated the American Indians. The New Englanders and the Eastern gentry despised him as a frontiersman and a dangerous demagogue about money and banking. The historians of the early 20th century saw him as a democratic hero, coming out of the West to fight the moneyed Eastern interests.
Thomas Jefferson is another. Jefferson, had his bitter critics to whom he was ‘Mad Tom’. Of his prodigious mind and its wide sweep no one had doubts. John F. Kennedy once invited a group of Nobel Prize winners to the Executive mansion and said thus: ‘the most extraordinary collection of talent… that has ever been gathered together at the White House-with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.’ His personal stature or his qualities are not what makes his relevance count. His policies or what he stands for must mesh with the mood of the times like teeth of gears so history on its march keeps his relevance as obvious. No president or king is as relevant as to be in step with mood of the times all the time.
Thus presidents out of office have remaining years to live in the past or setting up a library to keep posterity guessing. Was he the wrong man for the best of times or the right man for the dangerous times? Hope has nothing to do once the reality kicks in.
Ronald Reagan came to power on the belief ‘Politics is just like show business. You have hell of an opening, coast for a while and then have hell of a close’. He edged out Jimmy Carter from the Presidential race with the promise of getting the nation out of depression. ‘I am speaking of depression in the human sense. A recession is when your neighbour is out of work. Recovery is when Carter is out of work.’ Reagan was elected the President. His covert interference in Afghanistan to arm the mujaheddin and break the back of the Soviets seemed to succeed. History however shows its terrible consequences even this day. As for his economic policies paved the way for the economic meltdown and recession of 2008. The presidency of George Bush Sr. was colourless but his rating has risen against the backdrop of Presidents who succeeded him to the office.
Power is always a potent tool in the hands of a President in the US or anywhere else to shape destinies of people; and politics is the means to get the policies across but then they are on their own.
Now another Presidential election is around the corner. The somber mood of the US economy cannot be as easily replaced as hopes of man on the street at flurry of activities that the election day entails. For him a change means a change in his fortunes in the matter he blindly takes the cues from the mood of people about him. Scaremongering and mudslinging are part of making the voter change his mind in favor of one candidate over the other. Romney is yet give a single concrete workable plan to make him credible but election fever when it gets going creates its own rationale. It is democracy and scaremongering, half-truths might prevent the voter think for himself and the most undeserving might be elected or the best candidate may be left by the wayside.
Money plays a large part and special interest groups are already in the fray placing bets and they must have covered all eventualities. Another way to get votes is to give style than substance as Reagan did so well. Romney’s heart as he claims is all for America, notwithstanding his 47 percent claims. His feisty debate seems to have gone well with his backers. He is all things for everyone. What if he wins the election? He may on the job find some policies that can heal the polarized nation. Who can tell? One advantage the Presidential hopeful is that he is new and untested for the office. Democracy is in practice is triumph of hope over reality. In Romney’s favor this must be said, he might make good or dash the hopes of the nation just as Bush Jr. did. In the case of Harry Truman no one expected much but in retrospect his character and decisions he took while in charge make him more than a middling President.
Economic recovery takes time and the new President-elect may take the credit of it unjustly in most cases, but it is fruit of his success anyway. If Barack Obama can keep the Presidency for a second term he would have hell of catching up to do to take the credit of an economic boom undeniably fixed to his Presidency.
(Ack: Hedley Donovan-Time/essay Nov 9,1981)