In many countries – as the history of Latin America alone illustrates – the institutions and the culture offer a weak defense against personality cult movements. In America, the defense is strong, buttressed by the First, Second, Fifth, Eighth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution. The “bipartisanship” that Obama envisioned was really “monopartisanship” – a form of one-party rule erected on the foundation of his personal popularity. This vision has been realized periodically throughout history, most recently by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. But achieving it in America is far more difficult, because the Founding Fathers consciously and specifically erected bulwarks against it. Those bulwarks are the source of institutions that resist populist, personality-based, and momentary passions. (The Amendments I named are but a few of the most important ones, but there are others, including the bicameral legislature, and even, originally, the non-direct election of Senators.)
His appeal, like most conservatives, falls back on the Constitution. But, as Anita Dunn’s hero Chairman Mao used to say, people and people alone are the motive force behind human history. The basic problem in blindly appealing to our constitution is that the American people are a) on the whole ignorant of the real workings of our system and b) desperate enough to try anything.
To use a Chinese analogy again, Obama’s key problem is that the American left is a mandarinate left rather than a “peasant” one. The fact that Obama connected with the American people as well as he did is a testament to himself and his campaign staff’s brilliance. To sustain it in a governing coalition with other elitist snobs is another business altogether.
Barack Obama’s greatest competitor for dominance isn’t either the Republicans or the Constitution but hard economic reality. It’s been that way from the start. The more his programme advances the worse that problem will become for him, at which point he’d better watch his backside for either a) foreign domination or b) a “peasant” revolutionary. Or maybe a little of both.
It’s a new ball game in the U.S., get used to it.