Jan 18, 2009

america america

From Ethan Canin's new novel America America...

One of the hallmarks of our politics now is that we tend to elect those who can campaign over those who can lead. ... For a man on the rise in politics, power comes first through character -- that combination of station and forcefulness that produces not just intimidation, which is power's crudest form, but flattery, too, which is one of its more refined. After that, power begins to grow from its own essence, rising no longer exclusively from the man but from the office itself. And this is where some balance must be found between its attainment and its allotment, between the unquenchable desire in any politician to rise, and the often humbling requirement that one's station must now be used to some benefit. And here, of course, is where corruption begins; for power contains an irresistible urge to further itself: there is always the next race. But when finally there isn't any more, when at last there is no more ambition to quell, no more inchoate striving to follow as a guidestar, then a politician must make a transformation that he may have no more ability to make than he has to grow wings and fly. He must change his personal ambition into ambition for his country.