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This article is taken from PN Review 248, Volume 45 Number 6, July - August 2019.

Peter Buttigieg Anthony Walton
DUE TO THE WINNER-TAKE-ALL nature of the American political system we Americans are prone to hero worship. It’s not enough that a political leader presents him or herself as caring, concerned and, most of all (one would think), competent. That’s sufficient for the school board, the town council, even the local state assembly, but to inhabit the higher echelons of the system, most politicians have to exhibit something more, some evidence of being ‘touched’, anointed, special – and to contend for the highest office of all, the presidency, a candidate needs to be seen as down from Olympus.

You could call it charisma, and it can manifest in several different ways, whether in the combination of blue blood and Johnny Carson-esque ‘let’s have a beer’ folksy comfort projected by George W. Bush, or the literal hero narrative of the soldier and survivor John McCain.

This trend is even more pronounced on the left side of the political spectrum. Democrats who win tend to be larger than life representations of the nation’s current optimistic vision of itself, or of what large numbers of younger voters would like to be. Think of John Kennedy in 1960 turning the page from the stolid 1950s; or Baby Boomer Bill Clinton putting the World War II generation to bed once and for all (and skipping over the Korea, or ‘Silent’ generation); or most incredibly, Barack Obama emerging from nowhere to give a blazing keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention and be elected president four years ...


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