This morning, I was just taking a break from some meetings and finally catching up on the news; I look at the date and realize that it is November 22.
If you’re of my generation (born in ’53) or older, that date is a pretty powerful one; today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In a certain sense, his brief (and really not terribly effective) presidency marks the apogee of post-war American confidence. We may have been worried that the Russians might nuke us, but somehow we were filled with a kind of optimism that we could make it though, and not only make it through, but make it better.
I attribute no small part of that to the systemic collapse of leadership – both in the quality of being able to lead, and of being able to be led – in our society.neo-neocon sent me a link to her recent post on leadership, which was a good read. I’ve felt for a while that the old balance between erecting statues of leaders and pulling them down has been upset somehow in our day.
Personally, I blame celebrity (then again, I blame celebrity for everything). We balance out view of others with positive and negative opinions. My belief is that the positive – which once was held by a respect for or awe of leaders – has been replaced by the simple handwarming over the glow of celebrity, which is much more ephemeral and which we know means less.
Here I’ll also suggest that we go to Habermas’ ‘Legitimation Crisis‘ – Damn!! Now I need to go reread it! – to talk about how Western, Enlightenment society consumes the social structures which create and sustain legitimacy.
I’ll suggest that Kennedy was the last political ‘leader’ we’ve known in America. His legacy – realized and unrealized – is something we’re living with today. I believe that until Democrats can work through that legacy, we will be like Bill Clinton, emulating the form of his behavior without ever capturing the substance.
And more, I think that we need to revisit and think hard about why it is that we expect our society to function when we entrust the levers of power to people more worried about being torn down than about accomplishing anything.