Monday, September 7, 2009

Humbling the One

Fouad Ajami has an eloquent and insightful account of Barack Obama's presidency so far. It builds on what he wrote last October in "Obama and the Politics of Crowds."

Here, in "Obama's Summer of Discontent," he repeats his point that, "His politics of charisma was reminiscent of of the Third World." The people invest all their hopes and all their authority in a charismatic leader who embodies them and who thus speaks and acts in their name without serious legal restraint. In fact it is just the sort of tyranny that grew out of the ancient democracies, and which the Founders of our republic resolved to avoid by means of the unique features of our liberal republic (federalism, representation, checks and balances, separation of powers).

But Obama and his most religiously devoted supporters have been disappointed with how difficult it has been for the President to realize all his beautiful hopes. Ajami explains that it because we are not a Third World "democracy."

American democracy has never been democracy by plebiscite, a process by which a leader is anointed, then the populace steps out of the way, and the anointed one puts his political program in place. In the American tradition, the "mandate of heaven" is gained and lost every day and people talk back to their leaders. They are not held in thrall by them. The leaders are not infallible or a breed apart. That way is the Third World way, the way it plays out in Arab and Latin American politics.

Barack Obama needs humbling, and the American people are just the ones to give it to him.

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