Friday, April 18, 2008

same old

whoever first suggested that the best thing to do with power was to give it away omitted the obvious rider: that this needs to be an endless event. it is not enough - having come to accept (as all but the hapless and insane needs must, in all conscience) that power is a poisoned chalice that as sure as eggs is eggs will corrode one's moral compass the longer one enjoys it - simply to pass the buck: the big question is not, to whom should one pass it (since passing it to anyone is akin to handing them a container of nuclear waste), but what to do with it, period.

it goes without saying that anyone who wants power - ie everyone who aspires to political office in any way shape or form - is as little to be trusted with it as a psychopath with a bazooka. the tricky thing for every aspiring politician is to assure an electorate that's desperate to believe that honesty in a politician is possible that they - uniquely in the history of global politics - might be that person, if we'd only give them the chance to prove it. the most successful actually believe this themselves (the art of politics being as much about self-delusion as about social deception) - I'm even prepared to admit that a lot of politicians go into politics because they passionately believe that their passionate beliefs, hitched to their starry-eyed idealism, might enable them to change things for the better.


it's hard to imagine that someone like Robert Mugabe was once a much-admired freedom fighter - a hero and a liberator in the eyes of his fellow Africans struggling to emerge from under the yoke of British colonial oppression. the path from hero to despot, alas, is all too well-trodden in the history of post-colonial statehood. almost certainly, if Nelson Mandela had remained in office as South African president, his mythical status as - uniquely - the only honest man in world politics would have become deeply compromised. whether Mr Mugabe's opposition successor-in-waiting, Morgan Tsvangirai might be able not only to rescue poor Zimbabwe from the economic ruin caused by Mugabe's inept leadership, but also to retain the supposed integrity of his position (as compared with the transparent gangsterism of Mugabe's administration) is 100% fantasy. once in power, Mr Tsvangirai would have to resort to exactly the same tactics as his predecessor in order to maintain any sort of order at all - the generals would just have different names. 'twas ever thus.

and - sad but true - it's hard to have to accept that looking back on the administration of a President Obama from some point more than ten years hence will be an exercise accompanied by any less sighing and grinding of teeth and more or less concealed mutterings about failed promises and disappointments than has followed in the wake of any one of the forty-three of the buggers. this is not cynicism. this is pragmatism, pure and simple. the only people who have anything good to say about ex-leaders are those who have benefited materially from either their economic chicaneries or their patronage. and it is they - if they happen to have influence with (or happen to own) the media - who decide the degree of hagiography that will henceforth apply to that person in the carefully constructed version of history that they will thenceforth inhabit.

now and again, however, we do arrive at a spectacular nadir of incompetence in our leaders of choice, and the examples of such catastrophes as a Mugabe or a Bush provide us with a future benchmark of failure.

so every cloud has a silver lining.

the best bit about the politics game, like Christmas and marriage, has always been the anticipation: the hope of future betterment on the new broom principle is enough to make the blood race and get us cheering for our candidate of choice. it is testament either to our obdurate optimism, hopeless laziness, or intractable stupidity that we continue to invest the collectively enormous power we have as a society in the palpably compromised hands of our so-called leaders. one day we might finally realise that this power thing is as superannuated as pack-hunting the woolly mammoth with flint spears - that power is to corruption as rat-fleas is to plague, and that maybe there are other ways of doing things that don't always end in tears.

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