Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The dangers of an Obama overhype? 

A major reason for hoping for an Obama presidency is that we will be spared another round of the Republican party dreamworld dance. However there are dangers in the rather orgasmic enthusiasm behind his campaign.

Can he survive the collision between his build-up and the reality?

The Perils of the Build-Up were brilliantly explained by John Kenneth Galbraith:

Then comes the build-up. He is a man transformed indeed he is no longer a man but a superman. His eccentricities become the mark of a unique personality. His hobbies are the refreshment of an intense and active mind. His wife becomes a gracious, untiring, and selfless partner. If he has had several wives, he has been tried by sadness. If he is a teetotaller, this marks him as a stern, disciplined, and dedicated man. If he is given to belting the bottle, it will be said that he is not lacking in warmth and human qualities. But most remarkable of all are his qualifications for the job he has assumed. Where others ponder, he has solutions. That is because he is able to separate the essentials from the nonessentials and then find a painless course of action by shooting straight for the target. It has been the fault of lesser men that they had left the impression that there was a choice only between equally grim alternatives. In fact, the build-up is particularly likely to occur at a time when problems are numerous, vexatious, and incomprehensible. Not knowing how to control nuclear energy, disarm, increase needed expenditures, balance the budget, eliminate farm surpluses ….we find it desirable to invent people who can do these things.

When they fail to do the miraculous., the expectations machine turns viciously against them reducing them to pitiful wrecks.

Galbraith ends thus:

Although there is no clear remedy for the build-up, it might help were we to resolve to remember that in a democracy leaders, at their best, are only the first among near-equals. So they will always share the bafflement of their followers. To build extravagant images of their wisdom renders no more service than the other modern habit of freely asserting their total venality.

(John Kenneth Galbraith ‘The Liberal Hour’ Chapter 7 ‘The build-Up and the Public Man’)

If a President Obama can keep his head when all about him are singing praises he will be an exceptional leader indeed.

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