Theatre. This is what a lot of us seem to want from their leaders, be it political, spiritual, or whatnot. The actual decisions they make, or ethics they display, tend to drop off to the side, that is, until we begin to experience the impact of said leaders.
The following is from an article examining U.S. President Obama’s current image amongst the American public:
“Obama performs the presidency badly. Over the past two years he has managed to come across as aloof, detached and occasionally dithering. On a human level his professorial demeanor makes him look like a leader who understands but does not necessarily feel. On a presidential level it makes him look like a leader who prefers to think than to act.
This dislocation is particularly acute because his candidacy – rooted in the promise of change – endowed his presidency with expectations of transformation both symbolic and substantial that no individual could possibly meet.
This became painfully apparent last week during a televised town hall meeting when Velma Hart, a black woman – the demographic bedrock of Obama’s base – expressed her frustration with his presidency. “I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.”
Obama acknowledged hard times but went on to answer with a laundry list of achievements. His answer was competent but at no time did it emotionally connect with her or anyone else. Afterward, Hart told the Washington Post: “I think he has made progress. I just thought by now the progress would be more evident for the man-on-the-street level. I thought there was something special and secret he knew that would make things operate differently.”
Asked if she thought her expectations had been unrealistic, she said: “Absolutely. It took decades to get here. He’s only been in office for two years. But I guess I started to believe, on some small level, that he had a magic wand.”
Now, I think there are a number of factors playing into the diminished approval of Obama’s “performance”, racism and a shitty economy high on the list. But what I’m interested in is the expectations people place upon leaders, specifically the desire to experience a personal, emotional connection with said leader.
Expecting a Miracle Worker
Those who know me know that long before the 2008 Presidential election, I declared Obama to be yet another centrist Democrat with little intention to upset the status quo. Part of me wanted to be wrong, but I wasn’t. In fact, while friends and members of my family drooled over the man’s speeches, I read the transcripts and pointed out exactly what candidate Obama was saying behind the excitement. You might say I was a bit of killjoy, but it was clear to me early on that people were placing an endless amount of projections on this one man, and his potential to “wave a magic wand” and create a better, more just nation.
Expecting a Personal Barometer to Connect With
The article above points to what I’d call “the emotional gap” between the President and many in the American public. People want him to be angry when they are angry. Sad when they are sad. Questioning when they are questioning. And well, you get the idea. After eight years of the faux folksy, temperamental like a teenager leadership of President Bush, the arrival of a calm, cerebral Obama was welcomed by a majority of Americans, even some who didn’t vote for him. And yet, those same qualities are now viewed as a disconnect, as if the President “doesn’t feel our pain.” And maybe he doesn’t. Many of his policy decisions seem to suggest as much. But even if the man sincerely wishes to do what’s best for people who have long suffered in this nation, he doesn’t “act like it.”
Wanting to be Seduced
When it comes to politics, I’m pretty convinced the majority of people would rather be seduced by a charismatic actor than select the person whose ideas best fit what the current situation calls for.
And you know what, the same is often the case when it comes to our expectations of spiritual leaders. If Bishop Eddie Long and Barack Obama were in a competition for the leadership of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church before each had risen to fame, Long would have won hands down. The guy oozes emotional charisma and connectivity, even in the face of a sex scandal that could bring his downfall.
Admit it. You want to have the kind of teacher who sweeps you off your feet with their brilliance, feels your every last pain and grief, and always knows how to make you smile. You don’t want to learn, and work hard, and take responsibility — you want a Hollywood romance, complete with an enlightened ending. Never mind that many of these kinds of leaders tend to create serious messes in their wake. Never mind that every good piece of theatre you’ve ever seen contains it’s share of conflict and misery. You want the impossible and you want it now!
Velma Hart and the millions of others like her who have spent countless hours “defending” the Obama Administration are mostly trying to maintain the walls between the Hollywood romance they thought they had achieved, and the reality that actually is. It is a mistake that we all make in our lives about something, but one that seems exceptionally poignant when leaders are involved because of the heavy consequences that tend to follow.
“Obama as Superman” Slice of NYC @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.