Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Politics of Projection

What lessons, if any, are there for Ireland in the recent US election results? The big lesson for me is that we too easily exaggerate the ability of one man (or woman) to bring about change. As I observed on the day Obama was elected:
I think part of the great narrative fallacy that drives the United States is the idea that one individual as President can bring about extraordinary, positive change. We've been told the story so often by Hollywood (wasn't Morgan Freeman the first black President?) that many of us believe it. But it isn't true.
Two years later and I think everyone understands how fallacious their expectations were about Obama's presidency. He's just one politician - not superman. Of course, political leaders provide a focus for our fears and hopes. We subconsciously project our feelings about the future onto leaders (in business as well as politics). The 'best' leaders don't stand for anything but rather for everything. In the minds of their admirers, of course. How else to explain the success of Eamon Gilmore?

But old habits die hard, and the next Obama has already been spotted. He's like the character Matt Santos in the West Wing, a charismatic Hispanic-American, good looking, young and articulate. There's only one difference, he's Republican. I'm talking about Marco Rubio - take whatever odds you can get from Paddy Power, and bet on him being on the Republican ticket for presidency in 2012. Just listen to his acceptance speech, inspiring and eloquent in equal measure:

But don't forget he is just one politician.


  1. Have listened to Rubio on Fox News Sunday for the past year. He has had to fight hard against the establishment to get to where he is now. That shows guts. One to watch, though perhaps not 2012.

  2. This is the first time I've seen him in action. That rhetoric is soaring but his only identifiable ideological difference is that unapologetic American sense of chauvinism. Any republican faces a huge challenge right now. They will eventually have to put their cards on the table and explain how they intend to institute a form of generational accounting.

    Of course, I'd almost expect as much from the US: Rubio could ride in on a wave of sentiment but it would also be a wave of amnesia. Ironically, his survival would depend on the current administration getting some long-run success out of their economic policy. Otherwise we'll see incumbent after incumbent get thrown out after a single term.

    This wouldn't be the first time a nation's economic demise gets characterised by the rise of inspirational politicians. Let's just hope that someday in the future we don't yearn for the days John Kerry's jaw-dropping idiocy almost seemed acceptable in light of his political opponent's.


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