Sunday, March 3, 2013

Deification of Politicians

 In a democracy, or the much-lauded democratic republic, which is ostensibly the framework of government in the US, men are to be governed, not ruled, by the desires of the majority, circumscribed by the rights of the minorities, through the rule of law.  Humans, being what they are, seem to have dismissed that concept from the very beginnings of the country.  As soon as the Hessians embarked for their return to Europe there was talk of making George Washington a monarch.  A giant memorial to the father of the country was erected not far from the headquarters of his plantation.  His Gilbert Stuart portrait once adorned the plaster wall of every American schoolroom, his eyes following you as you got up from your desk and  walked out the door to the bathroom.  Even today, a couple of hundred years after his last official act, he takes a look at you as you pass a buck to the parking lot attendant.

Phallic symbol erected in the District of Columbia, in fact, in the city named for Washington, as a symbol of the country's love and respect.

Another much venerated politico was the commander-in-chief elected in 1860, who presided over the lethal offensive upon the independent southern states.  Abraham Lincoln personally ordered the military actions that culminated in the deaths of almost three quarters of a million fighting men, some as young as 14, their wives and children, and the destruction of their lodgings and livestock, all supposedly to free the slaves.  During this period and later he and his successors also engaged in the attempted extinction of the native tribes whose lands stood in the way of the railroads for whom Lincoln had been a legal representative.  This earned him, too, a sacred spot in the national capital.

  The Lincoln Memorial in the city named after Washington. Lots of  US towns are named after these two.
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  The statue inside the memorial of Honest Abe himself. Nothing idolatrous about it.

Of course Washington and Lincoln are major league politicos and deserve their god-like status.  Since their passing other, lesser elected public servants have had their memory perpetuated in marble or sometimes the more economical granite or even concrete.   The political backwater that is Minnesota, for instance, once revered "The Boy Governor", Floyd B. Olson, in office from 1931 to 1936.  While it's likely that present day Gopher Staters have no idea who he might have been, their despondent but appreciative forebears saw fit to memorialize him with an impressive statue on the capital lawn, unaware that even this tribute would fail to immortalize their progressive champion.
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Depression era Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olson.

Hubert H. Humphrey, the "Happy Warrior" slithered into politics from a career as a druggist in small town South Dakota, winning election on his second attempt as mayor of Minneapolis, later becoming a US senator from Minnesota and eventually the Vice-President under Lyndon Johnson.  He was so beloved by the progressive Democratic Farmer-Labor party that he had been so instrumental in organizing that they not only have built a capitol lawn monument to him, they named a domed sports stadium after him.

Humphrey did a lot of pointing. 

Very impressive monument to any politician, the scene of the death throes of the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1991 Atlanta Braves, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is slated for demolition in 2014. Will its namesake be forgotten?  How can it be that a memorial to a people's champion can be destroyed?

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