I would like to talk to you about idols - because who among us doesn't worship an idol? Yeah, I said it. Bunch of pagans every one of us. Usually this period of idolatry begins around the age of
three. We fixate on some man, woman, or frog-muppet and they serve, without their permission, as our Benchmark of Greatness. For example, Harold Bloom believes all writers have a lion in the road and this lion is a writer from the past and the lifelong goal of the writer is to best this lion. He refers to this as the anxiety of influence. This is why I take Xanax.
For a long time, we Americans put our presidents atop pedestals and treated them like messengers of divinity, thus proving once and for all that we are an irony-blind nation. We told our children that if they ate all their vegetables and refrained from all that goddamn cussing, maybe someday they too could have their face on a coin or treasury note. But how things have changed. Now, when our children refuse to eat all their vegetables and do so with a four-letter response, we admonish them with the threat that if they're not careful, if they don't behave, they too might end up in a no-win dead-end job like George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Nobody's coming to rescue them, sweetheart, so you better finish your peas.
Christopher Keneally, the protagonist of my very-nearly-almost-finished novel The President's Defense, is one of those foolhardy idealists who as a child did look up to presidents and public servants as the demigods of society. Growing up, one of his favorite commanders-in-chief was James K. Polk. Here was a man of practicality. Polk established goals which were lofty but reasonable and in his four years he accomplished each of those goals. His work complete, Polk did not run for a second term. Such was the measure of his ambition. Alas, when Christopher finally did make it to the Oval Office and was sworn in and when he did set about accomplishing his own lofty, reasonable goals for the country he loved, he was set upon by that one bugaboo responsible for the downfall in esteem of the presidency itself: instantaneous mass media.
Fortunately, what taketh away also giveth, and instantaneous mass media, in knocking down presidents from pedestals, has replaced them, in the eyes of the youth, with pop stars. The pop stars are certainly more attractive to look at, and really, given the choice between living at the White House and living at the Playboy Mansion, well...