People say “vote for this guy” or “support this other person.” They extol a long list of imaginary virtues of each politician, attributing great things to them. Photographers come, and capture that signature moment with the prospective leader staring vaguely into the future, as if they were prophets of old, looking to a brighter day. The color balance is perfect, the angle flawless, and each candidate shines.

Very few of them have ever done anything remotely great, or achieved much. We’re fast becoming a people who imagine ourselves better (or worse) than we really are. Our struggles are terrifying to us, but they are mere First World problems. Ah yes, the terror of the HOA hounding you for the grass in the cracks on the sidewalk, or the struggles to put gas in your luxury car. Terrible and awesome, those are.

Similarly, our achievements we note with too much pride. Ah yes, your child was student of the month at the kindergarten, and that new Rolex represents the pinnacle of horological achievement. First world successes, they are.

But for all of our faults, at least these things truly are personal problems and achievements of some sort, even if far smaller than we imagine them to be. Politicians imagine themselves to be movers and shakers of greater things, when they are really as much spectators as we are, if not outright bought and controlled by someone else. How many agreements have been made between the Israelis and Palestinians? How often, brokered by self-described great leaders? How many have been sold as “peace in our time,” as Neville Chamberlain once described peace with Germany? And yet each time, regardless of fault or grievance, the fighting begins again. More often, it never even stops to take a breath. No peace was to be had. The politicians failed. They always do, it’s as axiomatic as the rising of the Sun.

They will tell you that they can fix the economy, or end violence, or give us safety, but each time they fail. The party doesn’t matter. The leader in question doesn’t matter. They all fail. At least, perhaps, your child really was the student of the month. Peace in the Middle East would be a great achievement. Economic security, also. But they cannot give us these things. It’s beyond their power. There is no bumper sticker for them that can honestly say “I saved America.”

Jimmy Carter gave us nothing as President, but he built a lot of houses for the poor on his own steam. Perhaps he should have stuck to that, for that was a real, if far smaller, thing. Arnold Schwarzenegger made for a better actor than a leader. The Terminator entertained us, the Governator did not.

These aren’t prophets or wise men, no matter what the pictures on TV look like. They aren’t great, at least not in our day. If there was ever greatness in politics, it has departed America. They are just folks, and were they not caught up in the frenzied bottom-feeding of the media, akin to the paparazzi, they would, as you, have that sticker on the back of their sport-utility extolling the achievements of their kindergartner. Now ask yourself very carefully: could you trust yourself to run a superpower of over 300 million people? Truly, and without corruption? I know I could not.

Politicians cannot save you. But, it is possible they may possess the power to damn you.

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