Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Political Science

On Monday I opened up my fake closet of anxieties, but of course I have a real one. Pretty high on the list is something we aren't supposed to talk about, the fear that dare not speak its name. Since the McCain campaign whipped its crowds into a murderous frenzy, calling the Democratic candidate a communist, a terrorist and a traitor bent on surrendering the nation to its enemies, the Secret Service informed the Obama family of a blizzard of vile threats. Since the election, some intrepid explorers with the asbestos eyeballs needed to venture into the far precincts of Wingnuttistan (which are disturbingly not very far at all) have found the tide of hate is only rising.

Now, Mr. Obama is well protected, and I'm sure they know what they're doing. I don't really think we should lose sleep over his safety. Nevertheless, the question has made me think about the peculiarities of human social organization. One might think that a socio-political system as large and complex as the United States would be far too robust to be deeply affected by the removal of a single individual. But we know this is not so. The basic structure of modern republics always includes a large lawmaking assembly, in which the incremental importance of individuals is generally small; but all nations embody the leadership and execution of government in a single individual. Typically they symbolically embody the state in another, either an anachronistic hereditary monarch or a ceremonial presidency established to emulate the monarchical role. We, however, combine the functions in a single individual.

Historians argue vociferously over the significance of the Kennedy assassination to policy. Some believe he would have avoided the Vietnam disaster, while others say that Johnson only continued a trajectory he had already set. It is arguably the case that Johnson was in a better position to achieve the Civil Rights Act than Kennedy would have been. But would a two-term Kennedy presidency have brought about the chaos in the political culture that gave us Richard Nixon, and ultimately the rise of the abominable late Twentieth Century conservative movement?

Who knows? But we do know that the hope of the world now rests on one untested young man. So far he seems to bear it easily enough, but he has a long, steep road ahead, lined with determined enemies behind every rock and tree. Good luck to us all.

And don't forget to visit: The web site of the President-elect.


kathy a. said...

did you see this yet? sen. kennedy on health care, and MH parity:

kathy a. said...

and, among regulations that obama may reverse rather quickly: the international gag rule on family planning groups receiving US aid.