John Edwards was probably the best VP pick Kerry could have made (tho, how I wish Wesley Clark had been a little better on the stump ...), but after watching his speech last night I have to agree with Chris Suellentrop in Slate, once you've seen his winning smile, and heard his winning lines a couple of times, it all seems "rote and mechanical, so practiced that it's a little bit creepy". But it really matters how it played in Toledo, not to a non-voting foreigner. In fact, I gave up on Edwards speech, except for the part on foreign affairs, and read the John Cassidy article in the New Yorker expressing some skepticism about free trade.
What I did take away from the evening's coverage was if the founders were alive they really would be pleased that the monarchical element in the American system -- the presidency -- is working as intended.
Let's gloss over the fact that without his father's good name George W. Bush would never have got far in politics (Jeb would have on his own), or the allusions to restoring another dynasty in the Democratic candidates initials, and just look at three things; the wives, the kids, and the women.
First, the wives and children. I agree with Andrew Sullivan that " ... we won't be electing her [Teresa Heinz Kerry] and I have no interest in her half-baked political pablum," which is true as far as it goes if you believe that we're just electing a president who exercises the political powers of the executive branch
But we're not, we're electing a person to carry out all the ceremonial, monarchical, spirit-of-the-nation type activities as well. This is why with presidential campaigns the families come out, and are as much a part of the campaign as the candidates.
Walter Bagehot wrote about the English monarchy in the 19th century that:
The women--one half the human race at least--care fifty times more for a marriage than a ministry ....
[R]oyalty is a government in which the attention of the nation is concentrated on one person doing interesting actions ....
Monarchy strengthens our Government with the strength of religion ....
.... The Queen is the head of our society. If she did not exist the Prime Minister would be the first person in the country. He and his wife would have to receive foreign ministers, and occasionally foreign princes, to give the first parties in the country; he and she would be at the head of the pageant of life; they would represent England in the eyes of foreign nations; they would represent the Government of England in the eyes of the English.
Make the obvious substitutions of "President" for "Monarch" and "Royalty" and what's surprising is that they could apply to how Americans view the Presidency.
Part of the president's function as 'monarch' is to represent the nation to itself, to act as a mirror on society, but also to represent the nation's ideals to itself.
This all works imperfectly, of course, since people have different ideas about the ideal family, but it's why more than with senatorial or congressional candidates, and certainly more than with anything at a state or local level, Americans care that the President professes a belief in God, and has a semblance of a traditional family life.
At a deep, subconscious level this is why we'll be waiting a long time for a black president, even longer for a woman president, and a long, long time for a black woman president.
Americans are somewhat more conservative about gender roles and women holding political power than in other western countries. Combined with the monarchical elements of the presidency this means we'll continue to see white men running for office for a long time, with their wife and children acting out the role as latter day Queens and Princesses.Posted by robe0419 at July 29, 2004 2:24 PM | TrackBack