Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Smell of the Marble

Millions are gathering in the National Mall this morning to bear witness to the swearing in of Barack Obama. There's anticipation in the air that Mr. Obama is something unique and new. A different kind of politician.

He's certainly different (Joe Scarborough mentioned this morning that Obama is less prone to the sin of pride, which undos so many politicians). But the incentives of office haven't changed. Norris Cotton, a New Hampshire senator from the fifties to the seventies, warned colleagues of smelling of the marble, as in the white marble that covers DC. "And when you can smell it, you'll like it. And you'll be ruined for life." Great unchecked power leads to abuse and despite the Constitution's efforts, much of the power in Washington is unchecked.

This goes double for the presidency, whose role has expanded over the centuries but is now joined with a sympathetic congress. It's entirely possible that Mr. Obama, bending to expectations that he's a different kind of politician, will rise above such abuses. But the hero worship is strong and the people euphoric. Unless we become much more scrutinizing, he'll smell the marble.

1 comment:

Rhett said...

I fear you are correct. The American adulation - or idolization - of the presidency in general, and Mr. Obama especially, is dangerous for all of us. I like Obama for the simple reason that he seems like a good man; however, I have heard nothing from him that indicates he will not fall victim to the "smell of the marble." Quite contrary, he seems to want to make government even more powerful and appealing: for example, in regards to the economic crisis, he said "only government can solve this problem." Seems like a relative of Bush - bigger government, but moved to the left. And when he senses that adoration of two million people today, it will be hard to find humility and be a "different kind of politician."