An invocation to the chief: Fix everything

ROGER SIMON HC YfB

January 29, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

Heal us, George. Help us. Make us whole again.

Lay your hands upon us and take away the pain.

This is all we want from our president.

All we want him to do is pull the rabbit from the hat, wave the wand, sprinkle the pixie dust.

All we want him to do is make us feel good again.

All we want is an economy that is all better.

We want him to fix it so we can sell our homes for high prices and buy new homes for low prices.

We want high interest on our savings accounts and low interest on our credit card bills.

We want him to create good jobs at great wages. We want never to be laid off.

We want health care for everyone, and we would like to pay as near to nothing for it as we can.

We want an economy that is robust and apple-cheeked, brawling and sprawling and full of gusto.

We want a society where everybody is happy and nobody has to be afraid.

That's not too much to ask, is it?

It is, after all, what presidents promise us.

Yes, they do. I have heard them. I have stood as close to them as they let you get, and I have taken down their words.

And rarely, if ever, have I heard a president or presidential candidate talk about the limits of what he can do, the restraints on what he can do, the reality of what he can do.

Instead, these men promise us whatever they think we will believe, whatever will get them into the job and keep them there.

And so all the promises and programs in George Bush's State of the Union address are really just his way of getting us to renew his contract for another four years.

It is a cash and carry deal: I give you a tax break; you give me a vote.

There are economists who warn against this. They say these "boosts" to the economy that a president must promise to win re-election can be very dangerous.

They say the things George Bush is forced to do to get a vote this year might seriously damage the economy in future years.

But in a democracy the urge to do something -- anything! -- in a time of crisis is irresistible.

If you do not do something, the voters will turn their wrath upon you and vote in somebody else who might do something even worse.

So George Bush will do something, by golly. He will save the country. Because that's what presidents are elected to do.

It was not always so. For much of American history, Congress dominated events. A president was very important, to be sure, but the country did not look upon him as a personal savior.

This changed over time. Activist presidents took on more power. And, even more importantly, radio and then television transformed the relationship between citizen and president.

In an earlier era of our history, it was considered beneath the dignity of the office for a presidential candidate to campaign for the job. So few voters ever actually saw or heard him.

People did see their congressmen and senators campaign at fairs and picnics and political rallies, however. And so people felt closer to Congress than to the White House.

But radio and TV changed all this. They made the president a national personality. Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats, broadcast on radio, transfixed a nation.

And through television, through hearing the voice and seeing the face, we began to feel as if we knew our presidents. They became real people to us.

In fact, they were more than real. We began to believe they embodied the national spirit and ethos. (Which is why we hold the presidential candidates to a higher standard of behavior than we hold mere mortals. Or we used to, anyway.)

And so it is logical in this current time of crisis that we turn to the person in the White House to save us.

But the person in the White House eventually, inevitably, comes to a terrible realization: He is only human. He is not an economist (and Americans do not want an economist there), but now he must run a nation's economy. He can listen to the experts, but the experts disagree.

How easy was a war compared to this!

George Bush could say, "Drop the bombs" and the bombs would drop. He could say, "Send in the troops" and the troops would march.

But what can he say to the economy? He cannot order companies to stop going bankrupt. He cannot order banks to survive. He cannot order laid-off workers to get new jobs.

And he cannot order us to feel confident again.

He can only make big speeches and propose tax breaks and offer spending cuts and pray it will all work.

He can only run for re-election hoping that things will get better because he has nothing else to hope for.

Because George Bush has finally realized what millions of Americans have known for some months now:

This is a terrible time to be out of a job.

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