News & Politics

Do Americans Really Want a War Hero for President?

While the conservative myth is dominant in the political press, there's no just no evidence voters want a hero for President
McCain is obviously hinging his whole campaign on his POW time in Vietnam, with this spot closing with 'An American President Americans Have Been Waiting for'. This is a frequent tool he deploys when he speaks with the press, saying things like 'I haven't been questioned this hard since Hanoi'.

I can't help but think that it's a foolish narrative. 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 all saw the candidate without military service elected over the candidate who had served, in several cases heroically. There's a standard conservative narrative about America, one that existed before Hollywood but has been perfected by the entertainment business. In that narrative, baseball was a pastoral sport untainted by money until greedy city corruptors got their mitts on it, rural America is a place free of sin and greed, war is glorious and divine, segregation was an anomaly, businessmen are self-made, and Americans want a hero for a leader. It's the Horatia Alger myth spun in various webs outward, a timeless perfection that is America.

Liberal myths look different, and focus on love of country not as the embodiment of perfection but as the embodiment of our own capacity to improve who we are. This demands an honest understanding that yes, we have flaws. The story that Obama and Clinton tell by their very presence is about our ability to change direction, include those who are different, and build a diverse messy democracy that works. It's a much more real and beautiful story in my opinion, and it's also more powerful at this moment when we are confronted with immense tragedies, many of which are of our own making. And people know this. There are no Rambo style movies coming out anymore emphasizing the indestructable muscle bound American heros and dominating the culture. The top eight grossing movies of 2007 were Spiderman 3, Shrek, the Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, I am Legend, the Bourne Ultimatum, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. All of these emphasize either flawed heros doing battle with themselves, an incompetent, overpowered, or actively malicious state, the apocalypse, or an ironic challenge to mainstream cultural norms as the route to happiness. This is just not a good environment for an excessively sincere call to serve instruments of national power.
Matt Stoller is a political activist/blogger in DC, and was an editor at MyDD from November 2005 until June 2007. He also consults for the Sunlight Foundation,, and Working Assets as well as proactively networking other progressive bloggers/internet activists and progressive professionals.
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