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Politicians Are Not Leaders

Or: "Why I don’t need to hold my nose to vote for Clinton in November."

Politicians are not leaders.

Aristotle said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." You're all smart people or you wouldn’t be reading this, so if you're still here after reading that title, take a deep breath and say it with me:

"Politicians are not leaders."

The President of the United States of America is most certainly not a leader. It has never been the case outside of George Washington, who barely had to win an election. But as soon as it came down to real voting and actual campaigning and policy, the office of President has been held by whomever could rally the most voters. In other words, whomever could find lots of people who agreed with them. This is not radicalism, and it never will be. It is, by definition, conventionalism.

The President of the United States is the figurehead of the status quo. Their job, as the highest executive actor in the country, is to steer the ship of state in such a way that it does not go onto the rocks.

You can vote for someone on Election Day and march in protest of their policies three hours later. It is not your job - and so long as American Presidential voting works the way it currently does, in its ugly, hamfisted first-past-the-post, winner-take-all way, it will never be possible - to vote with your conscience. That isn't what it’s about. Voting for the office of President is about choosing who will keep the lights on.

I'm probably bourgeoisie as hell to many of my followers, who keep me on their roster because I happen to have the luck of a little insight, or because I’m right about just enough things that their resentment can slide on by. So when I say, "I can vote for Hillary Clinton with a clear conscience," they’re immediately going to roll out a fuckton of absolutely legitimate concerns. Drone strikes. Support for the Israeli apartheid-state. Soft-handedness regarding the bubble economy. Mediocre concern for serious socio-demographic issues like BlackLivesMatter.

These are all real, grave, up-to-the-minute concerns. They are of the utmost ethical importance. I have serious doubts that Hillary Clinton will move the needle on these issues in a way that is commensurate with the power of the Presidency of the United States.

This is not a "but it’s better than the alternative" argument, either. With Donald Trump’s long history of collusion with white supremacists, of cruel and hateful behavior toward women (and perhaps even children), and with his simple bloviating stupidity, I don’t think he has much chance of winning in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, Clinton’s got it in the bag, and that’s as it should be. But no, my argument isn’t a lesser-of-two-evils argument.

As I said, we're talking about who will head the ship of state. Who will keep the lights on. Who will bring deep intellect and administrative skill to the Oval Office.

The fact is, radicals in the Oval Office don't accomplish anything. They can't, because radicals almost by definition are breaking new ground. They are the leaders. They're the people in the streets, trying to get attention for things. Let’s agree on this: If you're still trying to "get attention for your cause," people don't yet agree with you, which means you aren't gonna get the votes, either in the election or (on the rare occasions that a radical wins) in the Legislature.

Radicals belong in the streets. They carve the way forward straight through the status quo.
Sometimes literally.

They demand that people recognize the necessity of their causes. They turn their charisma, their courage, and their ethical convictions into movements, and those movements change the minds of those around them.

That is the definition of a 'leader.'

Politicians are not leaders. They seek out the largest constituencies, and create voting blocs from them. They take on the politics of the masses.

That is the definition of a 'follower.'

Politicians are not leaders.

If you're reading this, it’s for you. One of the most important groups that needs to vote is the radicals who are, entirely justifiably, burned out on the electoral process in America. It's tiresome. You're voting for someone who’s four, five, even six decades behind. Someone whose greatest revolutionary thoughts occurred during World War II, or the Summer of Love. I get it. It's frustrating because they’re still pulling up the rear, adhering to an ethic that is outdated, or incomplete, or is a misunderstanding of a more complex truth that you and I both know.

I get it. But a lot of that goes away when you realize that politicians are not leaders. They will never reflect our politics. They will never be on the front page with you, and will never be on the front lines with you. That cannot happen in a democracy. The political class in a democracy, assuming you ever expect the revolution to end, you ever expect peace, will always be at the service of the greatest constituency. They will be in service to the status quo.

Your job as a citizen is to vote, to flex the power you have. Your job as a radical is to push the fucking status quo.

You can do both things. You are not selling out when you use your power. When you march three hours after the election you are holding the system accountable.

These two things are not in opposition.

They only appear to be in opposition because you are expecting politicians to be leaders.
Politicians are not leaders.

Commenting on this Story will be automatically closed on December 25, 2016.


Lev, Your article makes a lot of sense. It has been helpful today to put the US election result into perspective. I agree "Politicians are not Leaders", indeed... followers as you suggest and decades behind. Radicals are the ones that are charged with the role of changing the hearts and minds of the many.... yes indeed they are the true Leaders. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it's given me a lot to think about.