In case you are not familiar with the story of Cincinnatus, read here. Simply put, the idea of Cincinnatus at the plow has come to symbolize the myth of the citizen/leader, the simple man who works at his humble position until his country calls upon him to lead. Then, when his task is completed, he puts down the tools of government and goes back home to take up his plow and continue his humble work. To a certain extent, this motif is found in the story of how Washington was called to be the first leader of the new America. But nowadays, the ideal of Cincinnatus is not defined by a leader who is uncorrupt, but a leader who is just like you and me. In other words, the “greatness” of the myth has shifted from the humbleness of Cincinnatus to focus instead on his origins. The Common Man/Woman as leader – a person who is just like you or me, a person you could have a beer with, or sit next to at the beauty parlor. The problem with this, obviously, is that this presumes that the Common Man/Woman is fit to lead in the first place.
After listening to people over the Bush II years, I have come to the conclusion that for a certain percentage of people, what their elected officials think and believe is more important that what they do. For example, let’s talk about the ever-present abortion question. How a candidate feels about this particular issue is often a make-or-break point for the voters. But let’s think about this logically for a second. There is absolutely NO direct action that any one elected official can take to stop abortion. And on a federal level, one could very credibly argue that there is NOTHING a federal elected official can do. Certainly a President can try to pack the Court, but even that guarantees nothing. So does what they can or cannot do matter at all? Or do we just want a politician who seems to think like we do? For many, that answer is “YES!” And they would rather have a self-professed evangelical christian with a spotty track record and questionable employment history than someone with a top notch education who has spent much of their life working and volunteering.
Sarah Palin is a perfect example. On one of the many Palin for President 2012 sites, I found the following rationale for why she is fit to lead this country:
“We may not be the obnoxious party, but the United States is still full of Godfearin‘, gun totin‘ patriotic Americans–people who believe in small government, lower taxes, and the freedom to make choices for themselves. There are also many of us who deeply desire a candidate who is full of integrity and is not part of the “Washington Elite”…someone a little like you and me.”
But how is she fit to lead? Because she thinks like you? Are YOU fit to lead? No? Then why is she? Because she doesn’t make you feel inferior? Because she believes in Creationism? Think about it this way…You’ve decided to get a tattoo. You can either go to Jack, who has his own tattoo shop and has been tattooing for 26 years is known to be the best artist around, or to Mark, who just bought a bunch of equipment, but has never done a real tattoo before. You are a Christian and have noticed that Mark has a Jesus fish on his car. You don’t know if Jack goes to church at all. So, where do you go to get your tattoo? Do you want to go to the guy who knows what he is doing or the guy who doesn’t know the first thing about tattooing, but might think like you? Perhaps it would do us all well to re-read the story of Cincinnatus and remember that it was his service to his country and his disdain for the trappings of power that made him a hero.