It’s true, in theory, that the people of the United States elect their presidents. In fact, presidents receive a minority of the vote, but the winner’s minority is greater than the loser’s, so there is some truth in the statement that the people — from the choices they’ve been given — have elected a president.
It’s hard to understand, however, how the people could elect someone they didn’t know. But it happens. A number of years ago, someone from the Libertarian Party (to which I did not, and still do not belong) called me and asked if I would allow my name to be placed on the ballot for the state senate, on the Libertarian ticket. I was assured it was simply to have a presence on the ballot; I would not need to campaign, nor would I receive any funding to do so, if I wanted to. I agreed, and did not give a single speech, distribute a single flyer, or post a single yard sign. After the election, the Secretary of State sent me the official results, and I had gotten 11% of the vote! I was amazed.
Of course, one isn’t likely to be elected with 11% of the vote. But how well do the voters know the winners? Do they know them at all? The question arose in my mind during the inaugural ceremonies of Barack Obama.
Obama was a state senator in Illinois from 1997 until 2004. That hardly made his a household name. Most people, I suspect, are barely able to name their state senators or representative, and could hardly name any others. Obama achieved a degree of national prominence when he was elected U.S. Senator in January 2005, an office which he held until winning the Democratic presidential nomination in November of 2008. A meteoric rise: from obscurity to President of the United States in four years, and even during those four years, his was hardly a well-known name.
The Obama example is not unique. Jimmy Carter was governor of Georgia from 1971 until 1975. Does that make him familiar to most Americans? How many Americans could name the present governor of Georgia? Yet, in 1977, Carter became the 39th President of the U.S. Another extremely rapid rise on the political ladder of success.
Bill Clinton’s story is similar. He was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978, and defeated for re-election in 1980. He won the governorship back in 1982, and remained in office until elected to the presidency in 1992.
The dates, of themselves, don’t tell the full story. What tends to explain how comparatively unknown and undistinguished politicians can be catapulted into the White House may lie in the political connections they made, and the organizations they joined. Having the "right" (usually left!) connections is important for any candidate, of course, even one as well-known as John McCain, or John Kennedy. And a compliant media can be counted upon to keep an approved candidate’s name in the evening news, and on the cover of popular magazines, until people forget that until yesterday they’d never heard of him.
We’ve seen TV "reality" shows wherein singers of modest to no talent audition for the chance to become the nation’s next singing sensation. A similar process may take place, though without the attendant publicity, where high public office is concerned. If a young man presents a good appearance, can talk well, and think on his feet, he may attract the attention of king — rather — president, makers. And if he can utter the usual hackneyed platitudes and tired generalities while seeming to actually believe them, he’s likely to be high on the list.
During the inauguration, the political commentators and news anchors repeated, as a mantra, the expression "peaceful transfer of power." They made it sound as though the U.S. is the world’s only country where civil war doesn’t follow every election. They were obviously — ludicrously, in my opinion — enamored of the idea that former political enemies could greet each other with such cheerful expressions, and hearty handshakes, even though representing a "transfer of power."
Phooey! The players may be on different teams, but they’re all in the same league. A real transfer of power is not simply a new name on the door. The plantation owner may sell the plantation, but the slaves are still enslaved.
If Ron Paul had been elected, THAT would have been a change of power, so, obviously, it could not be allowed. The last thing that the president makers desire is a change, although they encourage the people, election after election, to expect some sort of gratifying change that will solve all the problems of society.
And, judging by the crowd at Obama’s inauguration, they’ve been right.