Thursday, June 9, 2016

Our Need for Superman

If God did not exist, we would need to invent Him, someone said. (Actually, likely several people said some version of this.)  

I see this every day in my office--people come to me looking for a miracle cure. People want to believe there is a man (or woman) who has power beyond their power to change their lives for the better. In some cases, this is at least partly true. After all, you stagger into the Emergency Room vomiting, dehydrated with the virus which has been making its way through the community and the doctor comes in wearing his spotless white coat, confident, smiling, starts an IV, gives you medicine and within an hour you are no longer nauseated, or dizzy and in fact are quite comfortable and restored and it's like when Daddy picked you up and made everything all right again.

This same phenomenon operates in representative democracies--we want to think there is some bright, talented man who can make us well again.  It's no accident they called Franklin Roosevelt the doctor who had the cure for the Depression. 

From the founding fathers onward, I suspect, the rabble, in their coarse, earth stained clothes, who knew they were uneducated, looked upon those silk stockings worn by Hamilton, Jefferson and Washington, and thought, maybe these smart, educated, successful men know what they are doing--that's why they are successful and they can dispense some of that knowledge to benefit us.

What we like best of all, or at least what some of us like, is the Hamilton type, who was born in poverty and through his own efforts achieves great success. 

But we are fine with a Kennedy, born to wealth, but still a striver.  We have to admire a guy like that, who could have been a playboy and enjoyed his wealth, but he gets on a small boat with a bunch of regular citizens and fights in the big war.  And FDR, there's a guy who could have enjoyed life at his estate, but he rebelled against his own class on behalf of the little guy. 

The problem for a woman, however, is on some subliminal level we do not think of women as having that sort of magical power. A woman may be a nurturer, but can she be a powerful thrower of thunder bolts?  

Rachel Madow did a very nice segment on Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to declare for the Presidency and basically, her countrymen laughed at her.  Shirley Chisholm was both a woman and Black, so they did not even bother to laugh at her; her countrymen simply ignored her.

By the time Hillary Clinton won California, Madow noted, nobody was laughing at the thought of a woman President. 

Mrs., Ms., Secretary Clinton might steal a page from the playbook of women physicians and surgeons, who manage to operate as authority figures by simply exuding confidence, and underplaying the authority angle. 

At her best, Hillary Clinton can be as good as she needs to be. 

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