July 29th, 2008

Riders On The Storm

Individual politicians don't make that much of a difference, really. I was always impressed by Tolstoy's thesis- in War and Peace- where he argues that the Napoleonic wars are to be explained in terms of the migrations of peoples and Napoleon was just the figurehead, not the prime mover. The French were restless, felt the need for lebensraum and Boney went along for the ride.

That's an extreme position. I don't really believe Napoleon was quite such a cipher. Once in a while- very rarely- you get a politician who is also a genius- and he impresses events with the force of his personality. Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill come to mind- but I can't think of any others in modern times.

So, Obama or McCain? I doubt it'll make much of a difference. Obama is livelier; he sends the better message- at least as far as the outside world is concerned. But the comparisons that are being made with Kennedy should give us pause- because we know now- if we care to dig- what a gap there was between Kennedy the myth and Kennedy the man.

Here in Britain we suffer under Gordon Brown. Brown gets credit for being Chancellor when times were good and is now being slammed as Prime Minister because times are bad. He's been the beneficiary and now the victim of events beyond his control- and his party and the public want rid because he's graceless under pressure and has a face like a collapsing wall.

Whoever takes over from him will be subject to the same forces and will follow the same policies- because politics these days is about management not ideas. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.  But let's not kid ourselves that any real change will be effected. A British Prime Minister is merely a rider on the storm. It may make us feel better about ourselves to have matey Mr Cameron or clean-limbed Mr Milliband in that position, but it'll only be the face we're changing.