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Messianic Pretensions

Messianic Pretensions

By David Warren - October 25, 2008

For all the figurative heat of crashing markets, impending recession numbers, carnage in the commodities, the flying squirt-bomb of the American dollar, the cat's cradle of international political crises, humanitarian disasters across Africa, the usual Islamist terrorism, and the deep winter freeze portended by a flatlined solar magnetic low -- there is Hope. But that is of another world. Hope, in this world, must be for the right things.

My column today may be read as an extension of what I wrote Wednesday for this page. I concluded those remarks by noting that if, by a surprise that is not implausible, McCain wins, we may have riots across the United States starting in Grant Park, Chicago, and an unprecedented outpouring of anti-American venom across 24 time zones. (Take France, for example, where support for McCain was clocked in a recent poll at one percent.)

I had doubts about John McCain -- not as a man, but as a presidential candidate -- from the beginning. I preferred George W. Bush in the Republican primaries of 2000, because he was not McCain. I preferred Rudy Giuliani at the beginning of this year's cycle, despite my considerable distaste for his views on social issues. But given a choice between McCain and Obama -- were I entitled to vote in an American election -- I would now pull the lever for the Republican slate without the slightest compunction.

Moreover, McCain has grown in my estimation, as circumstances have changed. He has in many ways earned his maverick reputation, together with a reputation for incorruptible patriotism. He's the guy to make politically risky and potentially unpopular decisions, in face of the recessionary slide; and crucially, he's the guy to make America's most loathsome and unpredictable enemies (who are also our enemies, lest we forget) not want to test him. In his appointment of Sarah Palin, for all the sneers of the urbane and over-educated, he has suggested a way forward in which America retrieves her "core values," which include cutting through the blather of conventional "expertise," and distinguishing right from wrong. And she can articulate what McCain mumbles.

McCain is a man of action and accomplishment, Obama a man of "charisma" and pretty words, whose only real accomplishment has been his remarkable self-advancement. And Obama's policy outlook, so far as it can be discerned from the usual electoral pronouncements, consists of the same snake oil the pre-Clinton Democrats had been selling continuously since they chained the Great Society to America's ankle: that is, a constantly expanding Nanny State. I am hardly reassured by Obama's last-lap rhetorical reassurances: you don't send a man to Washington with a trillion dollars of candy-shop promises on medicare, education, government job-creation, "spreading the wealth" -- especially when the economy has just tanked.

I wish that were the worst I could say about the man, who has survived nearly two years of campaigning for President without serious cross-examination from either the media or his media-chastened opponents. A man who, should he win the election and serve one term, will have been President of the United States longer than he has held any steady job.

In my world, you don't humour a politician who presents "Change," "Unity," and especially, "Hope," as hypnotic mantras, with the power of enchantment over very large crowds. And you especially don't humour such a politician at a time when both country and world are unstable, and hard decisions will have to be made.

Deeper than this: Obama has presented himself from the start as a messianic, "transformational" leader -- and thus played deceitfully with ideas that belong to religion and not politics. That he has done this so successfully is a mark of the degree to which the U.S. itself, like the rest of the western world, has lost its purchase on the Christian religion. Powerful religious impulses have been spilt, secularized.

In this climate, people tend to be maniacally opposed to the sin to which they are not tempted: to giving Christ control over the things that are Caesar's. But they are blind to the sin to which they are hugely tempted: giving Caesar control over the things that are Christ's.

"Faith, hope, and charity" are Christ's things. They apply, properly, outside time -- to a "futurity" that is not of this world. They must not be applied to any earthly utopia. A Caesar who appropriates otherworldly virtues, is riding upon very dangerous illusions. Follow him into dreamland, and you'll be lucky to wake up.

otiosus@sympatico.ca

David Warren

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