Saturday, October 1, 2011

What is it with this "savior complex?"

We're watching the Republicans carry out the endless search for a savior to run as their party's presidential nominee. But as soon as a new one emerges, the angry mobs tear him/her to bits for some perceived shortcoming.

But the truth is - we're doing the same thing to President Obama. Way too many people assumed he would be the "second coming" of salvation from the ravages of the Bush years. And while he's managed to make a lot of headway in tackling the problems that were on his plate when he arrived at the White House...for too many Americans, its just not enough.

Peggy Noonan is the latest to push this meme. She talks about two things she's noticed lately. The first being that no one is optimistic about the economy. And here's what she says is the second.

The second is that everyone hungers for leadership. Really, everyone. And really, it is a hunger. They want so much to be able to respect and feel trust in their political leaders. Everyone hungers for someone strong, honest and capable—as big as the moment. But the presidential contest, the default topic when Americans gather, tended to become somewhat secondary. Underlying everything was a widespread sense among Democrats and Republicans, lefties and righties, that President Obama isn't big enough, and that we don't have to argue about this anymore. There was also a broad sense that there is no particular reason to believe any one of the Republicans is big enough, either.

In an interesting twist, she then goes on to talk about how bad things are right now and veers into dissing the Democrats and President Obama for thinking the right narrative will save the day. As an aside, I couldn't help but think that while President Obama was busy governing, folks like Drew Westen accused him of not doing a good enough job of telling a compelling story to the American people. And now Noonan thinks "he's too obsessed with The Narrative."

She ends with this:

Would the next president like a story? Here's one. America was anxious, and feared it was losing the air of opportunity that had allowed it to be what it was—expansive, generous, future-trusting. It was losing faith in its establishments and institutions. And someone came out of that need who led—who was wise and courageous and began to turn the ship around. And we saved our country, and that way saved the world.

There's a narrative for you, the only one that matters. Go be a hero of that story. It will get around. It will bubble up.

All I could think of when I read this is "I want a Daddy to fix it all for!!!" And it of course reminded me of all the similar columns written by Maureen Dowd that sounded just the same. Of course Noonan has a political ax to grind. But we hear the same thing often enough from the poutragers and those who think President Obama has been "ineffectual" because the economy is still struggling.

Frankly I get really weary of this kind of thing and I truly don't understand it. What I want to shout is "What is it you want this savior to actually DO that you think would suddenly turn this ship around and make all the bad stuff go away?" Oh, and how does that happen given the strategy of total obstruction adopted by the Republicans? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is our role in all this? I know none of us can fix this on our own. But are we doing our part or are we too busy complaining about what someone else isn't doing?

As a meta issue, I'm really worried about our county's almost complete embrace of the victim culture that says only a savior can rescue us. It just ain't going to happen - we're all human. And the desire to find one is a sure recipe for the end of democracy.


  1. This is, imo, part of abdicating personal responsibility for the solutions (whatever you think it may be). Put the solution outside, out of your control, and if you don't like what they do, tear them down.

    "You are not obligated to complete the task (of building a better world), but neither are you free to desist from the effort. - Pirkei Avot 2:21"

    I'd rather do this instead, choose a goal and concentrate on my own work to get there.

    thanks -


  2. Noonan is one of the most overrated columnist around. Save yourself some time - and skip over what she has to say. Other than Reagan, she only enjoys the sound of her own voice. And that's all anyone needs to know about her.

  3. adjouir - Thanks. But I've very well aware of Ms. Noonan's perspective and flaws. That wasn't the point of this. As I wrote above, she's expressing something that I see as way too prevalent in our politics. It needs to be addressed.

  4. Peggy Noonan is just pining away for Ronald Reagan, and no one else will measure up in her mind. Republicans are looking for the Great White Hope to knock out Obama. But I think enough people do appreciate the leader that we are already lucky enough to have.

  5. Joe - I sure hope that last sentence of yours proves to be true!!!!!

  6. There is nothing new or unique about Noonan's comment. The desire to have a king/lord/priest/shaman/chief/daddy take all our problems away with a wave of our hands has been in our psyches from the moment there was a psyche. What makes our age different from all the ones that came before is that we have just begun to seriously suggest that this desire is itself one of the leading causes of our problems.

    Ours is the new and unique perspective.

  7. I agree with Smarty about that last sentence of yours, Joe. But unless we put on our marching boots and bring our shovels to the building site, I fear that the message of 2008, which was misunderstood by the slipper-wearers of 2010, might be abandoned in 2012. What's the wagon-master to do when the trailing wagons use the whiplash on him instead of their own horses?

  8. I do not get Noonans problem. The person she describes is already governing:-)

    Sophie Amrain

  9. Good point Sophie. I thought much the same thing.

  10. You couldn't ask for more of a leader than the President that we have right now. I have been saying since the day that he took office that the Dems needed to talk about him as a strong leader, all the time, over and over because the Repubs would be trying to break him down. They went to extremes talking about W being a strong leader, when he was anything but. Unfortunately now it seems to be common for even the media to continually say he is weak etc.

    And Suskind's book hasn't helped. He is a hitman if ever I saw one. It seemed that with every interview he was enjoying tearing down this President more and more. His tone and expressions were more than just disrespectful, they became hateful!

    Did you see President Obama's speech today to the Human Rights Campaign? I think he will be asking every group that he talks to to help him... Pass the Bill! and put on your marching shoes! He is not just hoping that people will see that they need to be active, he is prodding them. He also listed his achievements for the HRC movement. I think that he will be touting his own achievements more from now on also. AND he is calling out the Republicans every chance he gets, even in the hispanic interview he gave the other day.