I am slowly making my way through The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Slowly because it is a remarkably engaging story. I fear the 1300 page read will end sooner than I’d like. As the plot develops, Dumas writes of the King of France, “Kings today confined within the limits of probability, no longer possess the audacity of willpower.”The audacity of willpower! That phrase fastened itself. Dumas explains, “They are afraid of the ears that listen to their orders and the eyes that watch whatever they do. They no longer have any sense of the superiority of their divine being; they are men who wear crowns, nothing more.”
The audacity of willpower. Remind you as they did me of Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope? Dumas wrote his a century and a half before Obama wrote his. I’m thinking Dumas’ 19th Century words are more meaningful today.
I often entangle myself in facebook arguments about politics. As the exchanges continue we find ourselves recognizing a couple of inconvenient truths, good news and bad news. The good news we live in a democracy. The bad news is we live in a democracy, meaning we get what we deserve. What we’ve created through our own lazy acquiescence is a political system in which our vote is a rather anticlimactic exercise.
Political campaigns have little or no relationship to real dialogue about important issues. Politicians make certain we know as little as possible about what they really think and what they actually plan to do if elected. Most of us watch the mud wrestling match, some even sling a little of the mud. When it’s over, the winner is so tarnished most of the electorate is convinced he (so far it has always been a “he”) is not qualified to be president, may not even have been born in this country, stole the election or whatever theme almost worked for the losing candidate.
Obama began by giving Americans the audacity to hope things could change as radically as we thought they needed to change. What about the audacity of willpower? What if “we the people” had the audacity to grant the person chosen by a democratic majority the opportunity to use his or her own willpower to lead? What if our leaders no longer had to fear we would be led or misled by talk show hosts and the whims and fears of the moment? What if we actually chose leaders and allowed them to lead with both eyes on the future of the country rather than on the next election.
Is it fantasy to think voters might be audacious enough to allow their leaders to speak openly and honestly, abandoning political operatives who would prefer we made our decisions based on their sound bites?
As the kings of Dumas’ era, presidents today are required by the way in which we do politics to be far more concerned with public opinion than with public policy, wearing the title of leader but not the cloak. If we voters could come to grips with the fact that we have indeed gotten what we deserve, perhaps we could earn the audacity to hope.