Thursday, December 21, 2006

As we approach the day once known as Christmas, before it became “holiday,” there is a sense that the Messiah, Whom the day is supposed to acknowledge, is rapidly being supplanted in the public consciousness by a new American religion called politics.

Consider the number of “messiahs” who present themselves as redeemers and who claim the ability to deliver the masses from their “deplorable” conditions — from which they claim only government can save them.

For faithful Democrats, there is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who stars not only as a messiah figure, but who could also play the Virgin Mary. There is Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who can also play dual roles of messiah figure and one of the Wise Men (possibly Balthazar. Look him up).

In the Republican “denomination,” political messiahs include Arizona’s Sen. John McCain (who believes he can deliver us from Iraq and possibly Iraq from itself) and Rudolph Giuliani (if he can redeem New York City, why not the nation?)

All messiah figures must have at least two other things going for them. One is a book. Hillary Clinton has “It Takes a Village,” now out in paperback, she wants us to know. That could easily be expanded to “It Takes a Country,” which is what revised editions (and revisionist politics) are for. Mr. Obama has “The Audacity of Hope,” which could easily be retitled by his opponents, “The Audacity of My Wanting to be President.”

Mr. Giuliani, too, has a book called “Leadership.” All messiah figures must be seen as leaders and Mr. Giuliani’s experience as New York City’s mayor during September 11, 2001, and the days following, demonstrated he is one. Anyone who can unite New Yorkers has leadership qualities.

The second thing a messiah figure must have is a disciple. Lord knows these people (and some of the second-tier potential and actual candidates) have plenty of disciples. These have a worshipful faith in their leader. They unquestionably believe he (or she) can do what they say, even when they don’t say much (as Mr. Obama doesn’t in his book).

What puzzles me is why so many people put their hopes in politicians, when politicians (and politics) repeatedly let them down. Has politics become a God-substitute? Have political “messiah figures” become false gods?

The media drive much of this messianic complexity. The Christmas season following an election was once a respite from politics and politicians. Members of Congress and presidential wannabes would be at home with those families they all claim to want to spend more time with when they leave office. Not anymore. The 24/7 news cycle and the media’s demand for, and incitement of, conflict require that politicians keep their redemption message going year-around. The public never gets a break.

To believe in a political messiah requires one to accept by faith that we have no power of our own. Under this notion, we must believe our station in life is not as good as it might be if a politician to our liking is in Congress and the White House.

Political messiahs love to preach this message because it enhances their power over us. Polarizers on the left and right promote the messiahs of their choice so that disciples of their organizations will bring them “offerings,” enhancing the fiction that they, too, have power. Broadcast and cable networks encourage bickering, because conflict brings higher ratings and greater profits.

For a messiah figure to succeed, he must be matched to the real, not perceived, needs of his disciples. Are those needs economic and political, or are they moral and spiritual? If the former, by all means, vote for the best “deliverer.” If the latter, I can only give you what the angel Gabriel told Joseph about that Messiah: “He will save his people from their sins.”

That’s a real need no political messiah can meet. But the authentic Messiah can.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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