Misplaced zealotry

Many of us, myself occasionally included, can get carried away with a candidate and his or her message. Obama certainly galvanized millions with his talk of “hope,” “audacity,” and “yes we can.” His poetry performed electoral magic twice, against considerable resistance and resources from his opponents. Once in office, however, Obama’s poetry gave way to a governing prose that was not only mundane but also antithetical to his soaring rhetoric. People grew increasingly disaffected, accusing Obama of abandoning his promises and, worse, tossing hope out the window.

We are now in the midst of a heated campaign season with very much at stake this November. On the Republican side, Trump launched himself with outrageous remarks that, to the dismay and shock of the party’s establishment and media pundits, propelled him to the front of the pack, where he has remained. Each Trump comment, however bombastic, solidifies rather than dilutes his popularity.

For Democrats, a socialist septuagenarian challenges the party’s chosen one. He almost won in Iowa then soundly defeated Ms. Clinton in New Hampshire. Some national polls suggest that Mr. Sanders is either ahead or close to being so, and that he would score victories against Trump or Cruz in the general election. Pragmatists are understandable fretting over calls for “revolution.” “Feel the Bern” has captured hearts. Will minds follow?

The Sanders campaign has taken heat for wild economic boasts. Paul Krugman, though he agrees with much of Sanders’s message (e.g., a single-payer, universal health plan), he argues that the Vermont senator is not ready for prime time. Given the toxic state of American politics, marked by extreme polarization and the inability to get things done, a Sanders presidency could actually undermine a progressive agenda, or so it is feared. Besides, his economic plans are both outlandish (says Krugman) and completely dead on arrival in a conservative Congress. If a now-prosaic Obama can’t record legislative victories, how could a socialist expect to prevail?

Having been on this planet for nearly seven full decades, I can attest to the emotional push and pull of electoral politics. A few candidates inspired. Most engendered fear and loathing. Of the former, I quickly kicked myself for allowing emotions to get the better of me. In the end, no candidate, however inspiring, can or will deliver on even a small subset of campaign promises. This is America, after all, with its elaborate and stultifying system of checks and balances.

That realization should invoke skepticism and even cynicism. Zealotry has no place here, the land of lesser evils. There is really only one sensible course of action under our system: block the worse evil. That does make things easier, don’t you think?