Heroic leaders & perfect citizens: Who needs 'em?

T.A. Barnhart

The letter really frightened me.

I have worked in various areas of the public for the past thirty years: retail, tech support, politics, government, food service.  One thing I have learned is that if one public voice speaks a message, there are others, perhaps many, who share the sentiment in silence.  I have the willingness to write the things I do because I know I speak for others.  I'm able to articulate what others think and believe, and I know that most other public voices share the same characteristic.

That's why this letter frightened me.  It was not to me but the Corvallis Gazette-Times, a letter to the editor.  Yes, I know that many lte's are cranks, people shooting off their mouths, letting off steam, speaking on behalf of the Guest Lecturer in Their Mind, mimeographs of today's Talking Points.  But the letters in the GT tend to be reasonable, articulate and rarely plain stupid; Corvallis is both blue and bright.  This was not only a not-stupid letter, it was articulate and, from the perspective of the writer, reasonable.  The writer, like so many Americans, does not like the present course of our divisive politics and wants a change, a new course, a new leadership.

The writer wants Mussolini.

Not il duce per se; he wants "a real leader, not a talker, but a person of action, intelligence and compassion."  We have no real leaders at this time, according to the writer; we have thugs who steal money from the voters to wage their electoral wars for power.  Let me reiterate the writer's exact count of leaders in a nation of nearly 300 million: Zero.  Zip.  Nil, none, nada, goose egg, a bagel, one gazillion minus one gazillion-and-one ... minus one.  There is no possible change in this situation, either.  All hope is gone.  Not one single person in a position of leadership -- no senator, governor, mayor, attorney general, dogcatcher, party precinct person, crosswalk guard -- will be able to fix a damn thing in our existing system.  Our system is broken, utterly devoid of any possibility for leadership to emerge, and must be replaced.

By Mussolini.

Fascism declares the ideal citizen, the patriot, the one true way of living and being.  That's the essence of fascism: to define the citizen.  In defining the citizen, of course, the ability to define the other and the enemy is given.  Those who fall outside the parameters of citizenship are alien, and they can then be further defined as to just how toxic they are to the pure body of the nation.  If they are toxic -- wrong, evil, different, sick -- enough, they can be jailed, exiled, exterminated; it's all in play once the decision has been made to define the truth of "us".

Like Mussolini did.

The leader is defined in the same terms.  The leader is simply the paragon of citizenship.  In an ideal fascist state, the leader is the best of us all; the leader is heroic and generous and blessed.  Because we know who and what a citizen is, the leader can take the steps necessary "to heal this great rift across our land" as the writer from Albany put it.  "If one appears and takes the reins of this falling democracy, they will go down in history as the greatest patriot of all."  The greatest patriot of all.  Sound familiar?

It's what pre-war Italy thought of Mussolini.

I have no doubt that if Bush staged a coup tomorrow and uprooted our government, tens of millions of Americans would cheer for him, large portions of the armed forces would support him, most of the Rs in Congress would justify it, and Fox News would come out with a snappy logo and theme song as they celebrated this bold move to save the nation.  The urge to eliminate doubt, fear, dissent and trouble runs deep in the human psyche.  It's not a partisan urge, but it invariably has partisan outcomes.  Fascism would be a welcome relief to many in our country who simply want things to be nice, to have the troublemakers go away.

To have the trains run on time.

The writer is correct in that we expend too much energy on destructive activities.  What a destructive activity is remains open to debate -- I say the war in Iraq, Bush says opposing the war in Iraq -- but we do need to learn to deal with our differences better than we do now.  Chucking the system and looking for that one bold leader ain't gonna do it.  What will work is the empowerment of the grassroots, all across the political spectrum, with dialogue and productive activity being the focus of our politics.  Hoping for that one great leader will only lead us into the destructive pit fascism yields.  Leaders will never save us; only we can do that.

Just remember when you are wishing for that herioc leader:  In the end, the Italians killed Mussolini, hung him by his feet, and spat gleefully on his corpse.  Then they went home, buried their dead sons, and continued with their lives.

(following is the letter in question)

Wanted: Someone to save our nation

We Americans are facing a dismal future. Regardless of who ascends the leadership ladder, things will not change. Politicians will continue to bicker at our expense, playing the game, using the media to direct attention away from a famine of any progress on issues we desperately need to survive. The only possible change to emerge from a switch in leadership is the direction the daggers fly. Whoever walks across that podium to raise their hand does so knowing half the country despises their existence.

The time is ripe now for a real leader, not a talker, but a person of action, intelligence and compassion; one speaking to both sides while working hard to heal this great rift across our land. If one appears and takes the reins of this falling democracy, they will go down in history as the greatest patriot of all. The war we fight now is not against a foreign enemy. We are defeating ourselves.

This isn’t a democracy. It’s a voter-funded fistfight, with both sides losing.

Tony May

Corvallis Gazette-Times, 2/10/06

  • (Show?)

    Book recommendation -- The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth. Great writing, and the story is a historical fiction that describes exactly what this G-T letter-writer wants.

  • LT (unverified)

    Also, although it is maybe 40 years old or more, the excellent book SEVEN DAYS IN MAY is about a possible military takeover of the US.

    The orig. black and white movie with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster is also good ---and true to the book.

  • Becky (unverified)

    While your post is very good at explaining the problems with fascism, I really don't see how you made the leap from the letter in question to your thesis.

  • Idler (unverified)

    You wrote:

    ........................... I have no doubt that if Bush staged a coup tomorrow and uprooted our government, tens of millions of Americans would cheer for him, large portions of the armed forces would support him, most of the Rs in Congress would justify it, and Fox News would come out with a snappy logo and theme song as they celebrated this bold move to save the nation.

    If you really believe this, you not only don't understand your countrymen, you need a clinical intervention. This is paranoia of a high order, intensified through self-reinforcement to a fever pitch.

  • JoanneR (unverified)

    I think if we had a coup on either side the people of this country would rise up in revolt. I do think we need someone who can 'walk the walk' not just 'talk the talk', and I think this is just the point that the letter writer was making. What we've had for far too long is people who are interested in doing studies, and talking about doing something about the various problems we have both locally and on a national scale, but I'm not seeing many people who are actually DOING something constructive to solve the problems. I think that part of the problem is the fact that fixing the problem is going to hurt some people, and a lot of polititions don't have the guts to get in there, get dirty, and get the job done. They might, horror of horrors, make some of their constituents mad at them and not get re-elected the next time 'round. Look at the problem California and Oregon has with illegal aliens. One of the big issues Arnie ran on in California, was fixing the illegal alien problem, what's he done about it? Nothing. We have a simmilar problem here, although on a much smaller scale, and what is our state doing about it? Participating in 'Carousels of information' organized by the Mexican Government specifically for their citizens who are up here working and looking for public assistance, many of which are here illegally.

  • TomK (unverified)

    I agree with Becky. You made a huge leap from a sincere cri-de-coeur to looking for a Mussolini.

  • Karl (unverified)

    I've got to agree that it's a pretty big leap from seeing a dearth of leadership to wanting a Mussolini. I've been deploring the lack of leadership myself and at the same time, oddly enough, I've been deploring our country's drift into fascism. Mussolini coined the term "fascism", but later decided that "corporatism" was a more accurate name for the system where the major corporations and the government are one and the same.

    There are huge problems facing our nation, our children and grand children and the world. Our system, as it is now, with corporate money controlled elections and corporate controlled media makes it extremely difficult for leaders who would honestly confront and speak to these problems to get any traction. It just might take grassroots charismatic leaders on the order of a Martin Luther King to coalesce a resistance to the fascism that seems to be taking over our country and give new life to a democracy that can sanely plan for our grand kids futures.

  • Charlie in Gresham (unverified)

    BECKY....I was thinking the same thing. Tony's letter was sreaming for a strong dynamic political leader....not a facist dictator.

    Idler....yes, TA's paranoia does occasionally have me shaking my head but I'm entertained by his contributions to Blue Oregon. I don't necessarily think a full blown clinical intervention is necessary but a few sessions with a competent therapist might be in his best interests. Preferably a crimson red therapist to being some balance into ol' TA's life. We'd all be better off if we were a little more purple in our view of the world around us.

    Joanne....the problem with finding someone who can "walk the walk" rather than "talk the talk" is that you can't get elected to anything but the water district board without having a glib gift of gab. Sad but true.

    AND Kari....I'm going to look for that book. Coming from you I expect it to be a good read. Thanks.

  • Bill Hooker (unverified)

    What Becky et al. said. I can't see any reasonable way from Mr May's letter to a plea for a fascist take-over.

    It's a good rant, though. Perhaps you had it all ready to go and were just looking for an excuse to use it?

  • (Show?)

    hey kids, one of the things a writer does is push the envelope, take things to an extreme. use hyperbole to make a point. just because this is not a creative writing website doesn't mean i have to make my writing mundane, dreary or "real" (ugh).

    i am not paranoid; i am very concerned. i also know how easily a nation slips into tyranny. do you think germany or italy woke up one day and said, gosh wouldn't a totalitarian state be nice? let's vote for hitler! if a people allow their rights to be eroded, they are on the slippery slope. it took hitler years to take over, and he had the consent of the nation to do so.

    but i've also read my Federalist Papers, and much of what Madison wrote in there remains true, especially the part about us being too big for plots to work. so i'm not actually worried about a coup. what i worry about is the willingness of people to give up their rights for safety (actually for a feeling of safety; actual safety has been lessened under bush). even more in Mr May's case, i worry not that he wants a fascist dictator but that he's looking beyond himself for an answer. this is totally backwards and a major reason politics is failing so badly in so many places. heroic leaders have feet of clay; they are never enough.

    we are enough, with all our weaknesses and imperfections. each of us, chipping in a bit, doing some small part each day, becoming part of a larger project of democratization -- that's what will rescue us. not a leader who "walks the walk", whatever the hell that means. find a good leader, and you'll find someone paying attention to an active grassroots base. the two go hand-in-hand. you want that good leader? go create him or her, and walk that walk together. there is no other way.

  • (Show?)

    T.A. wrote an article citing historical precedent and drawing an analogy to something he sees happening today.

    I think it is very interesting that although his post drew strong opposition--even to the point of multiple posters using the word paranoia and it's derivatives--not a single post in opposition contained a single reasoned argument as to why the analogy was not valid. Every post came down to blind faith that fascism couldn't happen here or some watered-down version of that sentiment.

    You don't think the increasing use of corporate lobbyists to make official policy is a step in that direction? You don't think the government of the United States of America justifying torture and our soldiers and operatives following that justification to the point of torturing people to death is a step in that direction? You don't think our government asserting the right to detain people indefinitely without legal recourse is a step in that direction? You don't think our government asserting the right to wiretap Americans indefinitely without the permission of a court is a step in that direction?

    Well then I guess it wouldn't surprise me if you don't see the Bush campaign that subsumed every other issue to promoting a daddy figure who will "keep us safe" as a step in the wrong direction either--even while the facts about this administration's interest in keeping us safe tell a different story.

    We all want good leaders. That makes it an easy sentiment to take advantage of. T.A. wasn't writing about just that one letter, he was writing about how he sees that letter as a reflection of the Zeitgeist in this country today.

    That the best opposition that anyone here has been able to come up with is knee-jerk emotional reactions and name calling is a powerful argument for his thesis. Y'all might want to back up, give it some thought and try again.

  • Charlie in Gresham (unverified)

    Oh my goodness....now we have Doretta feigning indignance in defense of TA......as if TA ever needed anyone's help defending what he writes.

    I've seen enough....I'm going to go hit golf balls at Persimmon.

  • (Show?)

    "Feigning indignance"? Thanks Charlie, I'm not above enjoying a laugh at the expense of the clueless. That's two essentially content-free knee-jerks from you, apparently you registered the "try again" part but missed the "back up and give it some thought" part.

    T.A. asked a question in his last post that I think is at the heart of the issue: "do you think germany or italy woke up one day and said, gosh wouldn't a totalitarian state be nice?"

    How do y'all think an industrialized country becomes a totalitarian fascist state? If you think the US is immune from that ever happening, what is it that you think provides that protection?

  • Joanne R (unverified)

    Charlie - I don't mind someone having the gift of gab, I just want them to deliver on the goods....;-)

  • Charlie in Gresham (unverified)

    So do I Joanne.....sadly there are very few who seem able to do both.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks, Charlie -- I'm still only halfway thru Roth's "Plot Against America" and it's rockin'. Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR for president of the USA in 1940 and everything changes...

    Along these same lines, I'd encourage folks to watch (again) the film "Bob Roberts". It has a different ring now, after Bush & Schwarzenegger, than it did when it was released.

  • LT (unverified)

    Just have to add that people interested in 1940 should read the Platform that the GOP actually passed at their convention. I did a college term project on that convention, and it is fascinating reading. Other than radio being "state of the art " technology, it is more moderate than any GOP platform of at least the last decade or 2.

    And that was the year that Oregon's own Charles McNary was the VP nominee. To the best of my knowledge, the only Oregonian ever on a national ticket (although I guess Hatfield was considered once).

  • Charlie in Gresham (unverified)

    The GOP was far more moderate 30 years ago than it is now. Of course, so was the Democratic party. Both have tilted to far toward the extreme fringes to avoid times of gridlock.

    Hatfield would almost assuredly be a Democrat if he was beginning his political career today.

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