Not long ago I watched a video by TJ, aka TheAmazingAtheist, aka TheDistressedWatcher, aka thatfatatheist. It’s about something I’ve sort of wanted to talk about for a little while: the apotheosis (deification) of political figures. Here’s the video in question.
Now the first person I thought of when TJ brought this up was former youtube celebrity CapnOAwesome. CapnOAwesome was, alongside TJ and a couple others, one of the first big atheists on YouTube, and had 20,000 subscribers at a time when the biggest channels had about 100,000-200,000. He was a fairly intelligent person (I’d describe him as part Richard Dawking, part Howard Stern) who was in fact the first Ron Paul supporter I encountered. He was a hardcore atheist who regularly bashed creationists, pro-lifers, conspiracy theorists and modern Republicans. And then he wrote a poem in support of Ron Paul, and started posting pro-Paul videos. He also posted some videos about 9/11 conspiracy nuts, and the primary commentary was “I thought you liked Ron Paul!” and through some investigation, I found that Paul himself is a bit of a conspiracy theorist. And a christian fundamentalist, anti-abortion, anti-gay creationist. CapnOAwesome did publicly say that if Paul was a creationist, he’d stop supporting him…yet, the Capn still supported Paul after his creationism came to light. In fact, most people I know who support Ron Paul disagree with him on a large number of important things, yet support him to an unreasonable degree. Go to any internet forum and you’ll see what I mean.
What’s even worse is the messianic qualities given to these people. Ron Paul will apparently end all wars, legalize all drugs, and permanently fix the economy. Now, this isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time, this sort of thing has happened. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin fans make similarly insane claims, or worse (we all remember the Obama supporter who thought she’d never have to pay for gas or for her mortgage again when Obama got elected president). Why do the members of these cults of personality believe that their candidates can change things that the office they are running for doesn't control them?
But there's another interesting aspect of this type of hero worship, and that's how quickly reality sets in when they are elected. How many of Obama's rabid supporters have abandoned him when they realized he couldn't make candy rain down from the sky? I noticed a similar lack of enthusiasm from some of the more fervent Conservatives up here when Stephen Harper led them to government. Reality hits these people hard when their chosen leaders can't deliver, and that leads to political apathy. I'm aware that the more extreme supporters of a candidate aren't the only ones affected by this, but I also believe that they're just a more visible version of something much more common: an overestimation of what politicians are able to do. And when elected politicians can't do what they promised, not because they lied on the campaign trail but because they promised the impossible, that undermines confidence in the democratic system. That results in lower voter turnout, which is an opportunity for radical groups like the Tea Party. That in itself might reverse the tide of voter apathy but by then, the damage is largely done.
Really, what we need to do is have more realistic expectations of our politicians. That's not an unreasonable proposition, is it?