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A new John McCain campaign ad lampoons Barack Obama for being “The One.” The ad says Obama “has anointed himself” and it shows clips of the candidate’s lofty rhetoric followed by a shot of Charlton Heston as Moses parting the Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments.”
The ad is funny, says McCain. Obama calls it childish. It’s both. It also strikes me as a bit hypocritical: Surely, McCain hopes Americans will put their faith and trust in him this November and expects to be “The One” elected to the White House no less than Obama.
But hypocritical, funny or childish, the ad does more than mock Obama. It mocks all of us, and our habit of viewing our candidates every four years through a lens that is more spiritual than political.
In this presidential election, as in every presidential election, we’re all looking for The One who can lead us to the promised land, The One who can heal the economy, deliver us from demonic forces of evil, save us from the dreadful mistakes of The Previous One.
From the earliest days of its history to the present moment,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1952, “there is a deep layer of messianic consciousness in the mind of America.” Ironically, Obama has said that Niebuhr is one of his favorite philosophers.
I’m too young to remember this, so I looked it up — sorry, I mean I Googled it. Back in 1968, America’s messianic consciousness was pricked by television ads and campaign slogans proclaiming “Nixon’s The One.”
After Nixon, Vietnam and Watergate, I remember thinking that Jimmy Carter was The One. Here was an intelligent, articulate and accomplished man of God who promised that he would never lie to us. Here was a good Christian man who inspired trust and seemed to welcome the faith and hopes of a nation.
I found a poster of Carter wearing long hair, a beard and a robe, entitled “J.C. Superstar,” put it up in my Ohio dorm room, and that November proudly cast my very first vote for the Democratic savior from Georgia. I was only 18. What did I know? Like Herbert Hoover, another good Christian man, Carter turned out to be a much better ex-president.
It all makes me think of a comedy routine by Bret and Jemaine, two New Zealanders known as Flight of the Conchords.
Bret: You said Michelle was the one.
Jemaine: Yeah, she’s the one.
Bret: You said Claire was the one.
Jemaine: She’s another one.
It didn’t take me long to realize that Carter — like Kennedy and Nixon before him, like Reagan, Clinton and Bush after him — was just another one. A politician, not a prophet. A president, not a savior.
Obama isn’t The One. Neither is McCain. I’m sure they know that. Do we?