My more primary concern with Webb, which extends also to the mania surrounding Barack Obama (sorry, Obamarama) is the tendency in our political culture to gravitate to the nearest "great man" (rarely does our political obsession surround a woman, but we have the potential for "great woman" obsessions too, once we get past some of our deep sexism.)
A politics that transforms America from a deeply individualistic country to one that is based on ideals of community and of the common good cannot happen by some single "great man" sweeping in to the rescue. This is a matter of being the change we want to see in the world.--Koko
This post was going to be a "comment" on Koko's last post ("What a tangled Webb we weave"), but Koko's post was so thought-provoking that I decided to give my response a post of its own. What particularly interests me in Koko's post is his argument that we Americans (Koko is talking about those of us on the left, but, if we cared (we don't) we could easily imagine how it's true for the right as well) are always flocking towards the "great man." In a way, it's strange to think that Americans are susceptible to the "great man theory," since the Constitution of this country is, in a sense, grounded in a suspicion of the great man--checks and balances, impeachment (I won't dwell on this; this isn't a social studies class) are conservative notions that make it pretty much impossible for one person to completely change our way of life.
Koko is obviously right that Jim Webbs and Barak Obamas will not "transform" America; but I must ask him, will his "community" transform it either? Indeed, isn't the whole point of America's community oriented politics that it prevents real change from occurring? As it turns out, I've recently been reading the plays of the great George Bernard Shaw, Shaw, of course, was an avid Socialist, who very much distrusted Democracy. Towards the end of "Heartbreak House," characters ponder why, though Britain continually seems to be on the brink of revolution, "nothing happens." The reason? Here's what Lady Utterword has to say: "Get rid of your ridiculous sham democracy; and give Hastings [her husband] the necessary powers, and a good supply of bamboo to bring the British native to his senses." In this context, Utterword's comment seems like a sort of absurd joke (especially since her husband isn't, according to the other characters, the great man she imagines him to be), but readers who knew Shaw's other works would have understood that Utterword is mulling over a theory that Shaw had been writing about since his "Man and Superman." Here is a much earlier Shaw quote from "Man and Superman: "democratic republics" like "the United States...are neither healthy, wealthy, nor wise...The politician who one had to learn how to flatter Kings has now to learn how to fascinate, amuse, coax, humbug, frighten, or otherwise strike the fancy of the electorate."
Shaw's answer is Nietzsche's Superman, who will come and fix the "proletarian democracy," and, to be sure, this solution seems far less palatable post Hitler and Stalin. Nor am I saying that I by any means approve of Shaw's attack on democracy; when push comes to shove, I do believe (or at least hope) in the idea of a healthy, informed, brave, responsible electorate (where are they? well, let's save that for a different post). And yet, I completely understand Shaw's yearning for this great man (or even great woman! though Hilary, I'm sorry to say, isn't it); like many of us today, Shaw frantically wanted change, and needed to believe that change was possible--if not through democracy, than through an enlightened dictator. I don't think Obama--and my god, certainly not Webb!--is anything like Shaw's superman. My point is just this: what we American citizens want is the hope of something new. We want change, and we're tired of working within a system in which change is so impossible. Indeed, what's the good of checks and balances when right wing nutcases have control of each branch of government! It seems like the most the left can hope for these days is to somehow seize one of the three branches and, for a time, slow down the right wing agenda. For a time we've stopped media conglomerates from getting bigger. Hurrah!