When I was growing up in Portugal, the very first story I heard was of King Sebastian, who was said to have disappeared at the Battle of Alcazar Quibir. He would come again, the story continues, on a foggy morning, when the country was in mortal danger.
The truth of course was something quite different. The young king — a much longed-for heir who ascended the throne in his teen years — was a fool with dreams of glory. He went off to fight an unnecessary war and died ingloriously, taking with him most of the young nobility of the country. After a straggle of unlikely heirs, Spain took over Portugal and dealt with it as with the vanquished. It was sixty years before Portugal recovered independence.
It is understandable that while Portugal was in durance vile, the legend of the young lost king would grow. It is understandable that it would attain mythic proportions, that he would become the once and future king, the one who will come to save his people from all trouble.
It’s not unusual. Europe is littered with vanished kings and sleeping kings and kings who will return, truly, as soon as things get bad enough.
This makes perfect sense in Europe, of course, where land and race and country are one, and where the king was for centuries — if not millennia — believed to be anointed by G-d or the gods and therefore to rule by divine right as a more-than-human being.
Perhaps it is an ancestral failing of mankind, this wishing to endow the king with divine powers and abilities. The Egyptians of course took this to an extreme, and even the Romans fell from republic into the idea of divine emperors.
And we — you won’t be mad if I tell you, right? — are at risk of doing the same. Oh, I’m not blaming you. Or me. None of us was born when this nonsense started. In a way it is a twentieth century brand of nonsense, at least for the United States, the idea that a superior man will be found who will embody the virtues of the republic and flawlessly lead the people. Let’s face it, until World War Two showed us the horrors behind the curtain, Western Civ had got all jiggy with genetic superiority and the idea of the great man. And even World War Two didn’t wipe it out completely. FDR was to an extent our Caesar, the man who was perfect to take the ship of state and sail it to a “progressive” future where only the enlightened would make decisions and all would be as it should be.
Stop puckering. I know he was about as perfect as the foolish boy-king. But that was the image presented and many people still believe it. If one is to take the left side of our politics, FDR is their once and future king, the one who will come back/be reincarnated to lead the nation to the great future of unbound statism where everything is planned and nothing wasted and people like them get to order the rest of us around for our own good. Obama knows this very well. Hence his evoking FDR in his DNC speech.
I understand this, to an extent. The other side — bless their hearts — has never really got very far away from their eugenics roots. What’s more, they believe human beings can be perfect. You know how if you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas? Well, they lay down with the USSR and they got this idea of the perfect man that will come around when communism (small or large C, doesn’t matter) allows him to emerge. Cults! What is one to do?
The other side will have their Greek columns (turns out it was perhaps a harbinger of the direction they wanted us to go in, as they’ve saddled us with Greek-sized debt) and their pictures with halos and …
That said, I have to ask — why has our side caught the disease? No? Really? In blog after blog I hear people lamenting that Romney is not a thing like Reagan, that they don’t see anyone in the party who is like Reagan, that what we need is Reagan.
Are you out of your minds?
I will not diminish Reagan. Like many others of my generation, I am one of Reagan’s Children. What he accomplished, when he accomplished it, and how was nothing short of a miracle. He was the man we needed at the hour we needed it.
But don’t go fooling yourself. I was here for the ‘80 election. Back then many conservatives weren’t sure he was what we needed. Even when he was president, many conservatives weren’t sure of this. I remember P.J. O’Rourke — a writer I otherwise admire — calling him “his dumbness” in an essay.
All the same we got lucky with Reagan. He was just what we needed at that time. And I think he gave us the wrong idea that all we need is the right man in the presidency.
If that were the case, our Constitution would have some arrangement by which the right man could be discerned, wouldn’t it? It would be specified by what signs to find him — perhaps a process similar to the search for the Dalai Lama. Surely the founders, as well as they foresaw the road ahead, would have left us at least that.
Instead what they left us is a system of co-equal balancing branches of government in which the executive is supposed to be only one and just as fallible and human as the rest. More, they told us in unequivocal terms that the people were the ones in charge.
So what if there is no “once and future Reagan”? Could we use one now? Oh, heck yes. With bells on and a little cymbal on the side.
However — pardon me — Reagan didn’t save us, and another Reagan would do no better. When the people think they can trust a man absolutely and offload their power onto that man, even if the man is a Reagan, in the end, the best you can hope for is that after his term in office the slide into statism will resume … as it did after Reagan.
In fact a second Reagan might worsen the problem, absolutely convincing the people that it’s all a matter of “come the hour, come the man.”
But what are we to do, you ask? What are we to do if no one will save us?
Do you hear yourselves? You’re Americans, not Europeans. You are the fruit of a nation constituted in liberty and based on the idea that the people can govern themselves. You should not wait for the king who sleeps beneath the hill.
Oh, I realize — I see — you look at 1980 and now, and you see the similarities and then you cry out “Romney is no Reagan.”
This is good, because Obama is no Carter. And our situation is in many ways far worse than it was.
But it is good, most of all, because Obama was bad enough that he woke the force that protects this country. It had been asleep for seventy years, sleeping beneath the dark hill of statism. It is now up, and roused and active. It is moving. The tea parties are proof of that, as is the massive swatting the Lords of Political Correctness got over the Chick-fil-A business.
Romney is a decent business manager. He’s a decent man. He likes America. He wants America to like him. He’s not going to actively dismantle our way of life, as will the one now in power. There will be no attacks on freedom of religion, no wild power grabs for the Internet, no executive orders that violate the laws of the land. He will not hanker for more “flexibility” so he can give more to Putin. And — this is petty but important for how the world sees us — he will neither apologize nor bow to foreign leaders.
Is he perfect? Oh, goodness, no. Is he exactly what we need? Probably not. Who is? Do you know the trouble we’ve got ourselves into by trusting presidents for this long? It’s a big hole. No one man can get us out of it. Only we can. And it will take time.
But that’s fine. He won’t be anointed by any gods. There will be no halos and no Greek columns. Instead, he’ll be the elected by the people and the people — the sovereign people of this free land — who are now awake will stand ready to make sure he knows it.
Perhaps we will once more save our democratic republic for another generation. Perhaps we’ll turn the tiller and start the long way back from deep blue statism.
In the end, as someone said, perhaps we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. No hero will ride to the rescue — we will.
We’re Americans. We don’t need emperors. (If that’s what you want, to quote Romney, “you must vote for the other guy.”) We don’t want lords and masters. We’re free and at last aware that we must work to stay that way.