Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What Is A Hero?

What defines a hero? Today we use the term so loosely; I think it has lost much of its luster. Dictionary.com the online dictionary has this definition - somebody who commits an act of remarkable bravery or who has shown an admirable quality such as great courage or strength of character.[1]

Today we use it to describe athletes, politicians, and movie stars based not on their deeds, but on our perceptions of their deeds or on the media hype. For some reason we are a country of hero worshippers, we punch out heroes like so many “Krispy Kreme” donuts. We crank them out with little regard for who or what they really are. They are made heroes not for their bravery or strength, but more for their marketing value. The funny thing though is that we are just as quick to knock them off the pedestal as we are to put them on. I think that is because they were never real heroes in the first place.

I am writing this post today to discuss the meaning of hero in America because there is a Republican running for President that is using the hero mantle and I wonder if it is deserved. The reason I question the merit of it in this case is because if we use it to define those who have not demonstrated the characteristics of a true hero, then we cheapen it for those who do rise to that level. The man that I am speaking of is former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Mr. Giuliani has created this image that he hopes to ride all the way to the White House. The question I think, is does this well crafted image accurately portray a hero?

Before we begin, let me give my definition of a hero. I do this because I refuse to allow the MSM or Madison Avenue to determine for me what heroism is. Remember at onetime O.J. was a hero. To me a hero is someone who is willing to stand up for what he believes in, even when it is unpopular to do so. A hero is willing to sacrifice his own well-being and maybe even his life for others. A hero does the right thing even when he is afraid. A hero is still a hero in the mundane common things of life. There are other qualities, but I think these will do for openers.

Let’s see how America’s Mayor stands up to the test. Before 9/11, Mr. Giuliani was not a popular mayor and his political fortunes were waning. He had been the author of some unpopular policies and had alienated many in the city through his callousness.

Mr. Giuliani’s eight-year mayoralty was a balloon deflating before Sept. 11.

He had stirred a racial tempest by tearing into the reputation of an unarmed black man who had been killed by an undercover police officer

The mayor had an affair and announced at a press conference that he would seek a separation — without informing his wife.[2]

Prior to 9/11 Mr. Giuliani’s conduct hardly rises to the level of heroic. He had been an adulterer and had led a police crackdown that some felt had unfairly targeted Blacks and had led to increased police brutality. Then that faithful day arrived and suddenly he was transformed into a hero.

That walk north, the spareness of his words and his passion became the founding stones in the reconstruction of the mayor’s reputation, transforming him from a grouchy pol slip-sliding into irrelevancy to the Republican presidential candidate introduced as America’s mayor. The former mayor has made this day the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, aware that millions of Americans hold that heroic view in their collective mind’s eye.

Political leadership is an uncertain alchemy, an admixture of the symbolic and substantive and the visceral. In times of consuming trauma, psychologists and historians say, a leader must speak with a trusted voice and sketch honestly the painful steps to safety. A leader must weave a narrative of shared loss while acknowledging consuming anger.

All this Mr. Giuliani accomplished, mourning the dead, comforting the grieving and cheering the living even as the police and the National Guard moved in. His critics have lambasted the rescue failures at ground zero and argued that his inattention before 9/11 cost lives.

But his performance shone brighter for the implicit comparison with President George W. Bush, who initially appeared — fairly or not — frozen in his chair, listening to second graders read as a nation came under attack

While putting a face on the tragedy that was 9/11 was important and compared to the President his performance was admirable, but heroic? To me heroic were the guys who ran into a building where two planes had just crashed, heroic were those people who sacrificed themselves so others could reach safety. Standing calmly in front of a camera away from the danger in a dusty suit to me hardly rates heroic. Of course we have to contrast his performance to the deer caught in the headlights performance of George Bush and a desperate people might say it was heroic.

I would have probably let that one go, but then there was another side of Mr. Giuliani that emerged during the crisis that many do not know, he wanted to extend his term as mayor. He even got 2 of the three candidates to acquiesce to his demands. Rudy became drunk with power after 9/11, does that sound familiar? Granted it was a national emergency and suspending the election scheduled for that day was prudent, but to assume that you are the only one who can marshal the city through this crisis is the bane of Mr. Giuliani and that is his ego. Do we really want another ego-maniac in the White House, someone unable to see his own shortcomings?

But this fusion of personality with a wounded city had an underside. Mr. Giuliani became convinced that he was New York’s indispensable man. He tried to overturn term limits and run again. Failing that, Mr. Giuliani wanted to extend his term three months.

“It was a very dangerous idea,” said Mr. Schwarz, the former corporation counsel. “The knight on the white horse is always indispensable in his own mind.”[4]

All of us have our flaws and I would never for one minute assume that we will elect a flawless person to be President, but we have been down this road before. The fine staged-craft persona of a take charge leader and hero coming to the rescue. I didn’t like the original version, so I’m in no hurry to see the sequel. The world we will inherit from the first hero will be too dangerous and divided to elect another in that series of “bring it on” and “we are winning” from Republican type casting.

No, I don’t see a hero here. I see someone who has taken a tragedy and is trying to ride it for political gain. I don’t know what his qualifications for President are, but being a hero is not one of them…

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hero
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/21/us/politics/21giuliani.html?hp
[3] Ibid.
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/21/us/politics/21giuliani.html?hp


Anonymous said...

Man, I just discovered you. I have been missing some very good commentary for while, it looks like. Mind if I add you to the blogroll?

--Dave, http://parallelsidewalk.wordpress.com

Forgiven said...

Thanks Dave,

Not a problem to add my blog...

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