The Political Arena Is No Place for Heroes

Politicians may be skilled at consensus building and the art of compromise, but don’t expect them to grow taller than the hedge

By Greg Lucas

San Francisco Chronicle August 1, 1999

Sacramento — Where have all the heroes gone? (Long time passing) Where have all the heroes gone? (Long time ago) 

A hero is defined as:

1. A man distinguished for exceptional courage, fortitude or bold enterprise.

2. One idealized for superior qualities or deeds of any kind.

3. In classical mythology and legend, a man of great nobility or physical prowess, often the son of a god and a mortal.

4. A sandwich made with a loaf of bread cut lengthwise.

Or, in Greek mythology, there is the priestess Hero. Her lover, Leander, would nightly swim the Hellespont to be with her. One night she found him drowned and leaped into the sea.

It seems the more heroic thing — showing great daring or boldness, extreme in act or effect — might have been to try to carry on.

These definitions come from the Standard Encyclopedic Dictionary of 1969. Thirty years later, of course, “woman” or “person” would replace “man” — as it should have back then.

But the definition of hero is unchanged.Unknown

Ergo, ipso facto, by definition there are no heroes in politics.

There are heroes who become politicians.

John Glenn, Mercury astronaut turned U.S. senator turned septuagenarian space traveler, comes to mind.

Or, here in California, former Assemblyman B.T. Collins, who lost an arm and a leg by covering a grenade to save his comrades.

But, again, there is nothing heroic about politicking.

Politics is about concession, compromise, consensus.

There is certainly nothing heroic about desperately trying not to offend anyone by refusing to take a position that might be unpalatable to some chunk of voters.

Politics is not a profession that rewards one-against-the-world, Leonidas-at-Thermopylae action.

Politicians who attempt that find themselves looking for real work real fast.

Grow higher than the top of the hedge and they come around and lop you off.

Lesson in point: Things ended badly for several of the brave men in JFK’s “Profiles in Courage.”

UnknownGovernor Jim Florio of New Jersey signed the nation’s toughest gun control law a few years back.

Thanks for playing, Jimmy. We got lovely parting gifts. Your 15 minutes are up, baby.

Back when the “three strikes and you’re out” sentencing law was being debated, a state lawmaker with good law enforcement credentials proposed a better alternative that would not send teenage home burglars to prison for 25 years to life.

In the face of a tidal wave of support for three strikes, continued advocacy by this lawmaker of his more sensible plan, which lacked a catchy slogan, was about as smart as going to the editorial board of a big metropolitan newspaper and telling the folks there who buy ink by the barrel that they have brains the size of radishes. 

Shocking bit of news: His plan got dropped like a hot rock.

Not that we wouldn’t mind a little heroism. The biggest applause line Son of Shrub gets in his running-for-prez stump speech is when he says he won’t govern by polls.

The inference is that he will do what’s right, not what’s popular. 

Seems like something that should be implicit. Something better demonstrated than promised.

images-1Heroes tend to do a lot less talking than politicians. Heroes, as commonly portrayed, are gritty, stoic,Clint Eastwood grunter types. They are not Hubert Humphrey.

Hard visualizing Hercules telling any resident of Thebes who will listen about how he’s gonna whip ass on the Hydra and send that poodle Cerberus home to Hades with its tail between its legs.

No hero worth his salt would yap about his “vision” and how lesser life forms, such as lawmakers, were caused to scramble out of the primordial slime merely to serve as toadying vassals to that “vision.”

Hard to visualize Perseus doing a full Margaret Hamilton meltdown — nothing but a puddle and a black cape — because the Athens Gazette put his slaying of Medusa on the third page.

That kind of churlish whining seems more like the utterances of a dangerously arrogant crybaby with skin thinner than rice paper.

Or perhaps just Hero Definition No. 4 without anything between the bread.

Another thing heroes always do that is losing favor with more and more politicians is keep their word.

If the Lone Ranger said he was gonna show up to save the Widow McPherson and her brood of hungry urchins from eviction, you could go to the bank on Silver galloping up to the front porch at the appointed time.

In politics, your word is supposed to be your bond. It is for some.Unknown-1

But a system premised on that quaint notion fails when a growing number of participants, apparently starting at the top, cannot be trusted by their colleagues.

Not to say that politicians aren’t principled. Many are. Some entered public service because they believe government can — and should — help push the least fortunate among us up the economic ladder.

Others think government should be nuked or, next best, hurriedly dismantled.

And the guys guided by these notions go out and try to champion them, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Sometimes they settle for half a loaf. Sometimes they suck wind.

But heroes they ain’t.

So where have all the heroes gone?

Might go take a look at some of the teachers doing their thing in the classrooms of this state. A goodly number of police officers and firefighters risk their lives to save others. Emergency room doctors. Social workers. Many foster parents.

Where have all the heroes gone?

Gone to real people everywhere.

Filed under: Opinionation

1 Comment »

  1. Terrific piece . . . And spot on. I am moved to remark that another unfortunate truth is that more and more of our esteemed “leaders” are less effective or principled in doing the work of democracy and the people than definition #4 above .

    Comment by S Carey — 7.13.2013 @ 9:33 am

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