First story: In my first year of college, I read — okay, I skimmed — a play called Waiting for Godot, which, I am told, is rather famous. In this play, an “absurdist” play, two characters appear on stage with a minimalist backdrop ( I believe there is only a tree in the background) and each other. To my recollection, there are no props, no ostensible costuming, and no other form of set or setting. In this play, two characters, Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for someone named Godot. The entire time of this play is waiting for this supposed person whom both characters seek to show up. He never does. The characters contemplate but never act on several courses of action, including suicide, and simply leaving the tree they’re at. But they never do so, because they are waiting for Godot.
One of the women in my class theorized that the play could be religious in nature, suggesting that people are waiting for God, and they will keep doing so because waiting for God is what my friend Malcolm Reynolds likes to call a “long wait for a train don’t come.” Though I am not qualified to assess my peer’s interpretation, that is one that has always stuck with me, and I tend to equate Waiting for Godot to waiting for a religious deus ex machina, someone who will fix everything. And such a figure does not exist.
Second story: This morning at work I was discussing with some of my fellow interns about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Republican National Primaries (yes, already. We are political folk). As it is wont to do among conservatives, the conversation turned to our dissatisfactions with the way the government is running things and our disagreements on Barack Obama’s policies. Eventually, someone became disgruntled enough to say something along the lines of “Well, I can’t wait for 2012.” I paused when my fellow intern said this, but decided that the issue I had with the statement wasn’t large enough to disrupt the conversation, so I let it slide.
I find much issue with this thinking, the idea that all of our problems will be fixed when we get to elect a new president. It creates so many complications, largely because such a person is a myth. And, unfortunately, this idea is so pervasive in society that it has caused serious damage.
The first problem with the “waiting for President X” idea is simply a pragmatic one: a single man cannot fix all of the issues that we find with our country and our government, regardless of what you think those problems are. Even if Ron Paul was elected to be president, with his sheer force of will and commitment to deregulating much of our lives, there is very little he could accomplish in four — or even eight — years. There is only so much one can fit in a day, a year, a term, or two terms. Not only that, but I think that we tend to forget that the president has to fight with Congress. Even when the same party occupies both branches of government, it is still difficult to pass bills and laws — even harder to strike existing ones down. It’s an impossible job for an impossible person, regardless of what you want to see changed in the country.
There’s a very small chance said president would do anything.
The American people placed a lot of faith and confidence in Barack Obama to go in and fix everything that Bush had implemented. Obama was the “President X” for many, many people. They thought he was going to fix everything that was wrong from the Bush administration. I think many of those people, those who would NOT be categorized as “Obama Groupies”, I think, find themselves disappointed. Obama extended the loathed Patriot Act. The healthcare bill he passed is decidedly different than the one he promised, one that is perhaps worse. He has yet to make significant efforts to pull out of Iraq. I do not fault him personally for any of these things. He is a politician. They are notorious for not keeping their promises. I am not surprised at all — it is just the nature of politics.
However, when people play the “waiting for President X” game, they tend to forget this. Expecting an elected official to solve anything that they say they will is simply the result of a very naive voter. I really do feel sorry for those who put their faith in Obama and expected him to live up to his campaign promises. They must feel very much like they’re waiting for Godot.
This is not how we should view government
Even if one man could solve all the problems in the country, it is dangerous to put that kind of power in one position. It is dangerous, very dangerous, to put our faith and expectations for change in one individual or one branch of the government. I do not think that Americans on any placement in the political sphere want a large, centralized power in one or a few individuals.
The structure of our government is designed to avoid that, yet we as a people keep pushing power toward one position. We cannot do that, even if we believe that candidate X in the presidential primaries is the “real President X.” Three is no president X. There never has been, never will be, and our system is designed for there not to be.
Waiting for a president that will fix everything is a long wait for a train don’t come. It’s waiting for Godot. Americans should focus their political energies on things that will actually make a difference.