Why we need a hero just like us
If you’re one of the disgruntled majority who feel they have no choice but to vote for one unfit presidential candidate against another who is even worse, a white knight may have appeared on the horizon.
Yes, I’m talking about Tom Kirkman, aka Kiefer Sutherland, aka Jack Bauer.
Okay, so he’s not a real person and he’s not really going to be the next president. But in this age of surreal politics and reality television, the lines between life and art have grown so fuzzy that we might as well blur them a little more.
If you missed the pilot of “Designated Survivor,” you have only to invest five minutes to be thrown into the story’s premise: during the State of the Union address, a terrorist bomb destroys the Capitol building (ala Tom Clancy), leaving the relatively unknown Secretary of Housing and Urban Development as next in line for the Oval Office. The nation is shocked by the crisis, and the reaction echoes the collective gasp uttered in April 1945 when FDR expired only months into his fourth term: “Oh no, Truman!”
Of course, in recent decades scholars have consistently ranked the country’s 33rd president the fifth most successful president American history. Ultimately, the trauma of Mr. Truman becoming “His Accidency” gave way to a term of service better than anyone could have imagined.
FLYING IN UNDER THE RADAR
In the same way, Kiefer Sutherland’s new incarnation as Tom Kirkman is a kind of alter ego to Jack Bauer, hero of the iconic series “24.” Where Jack can fight his way out of any situation, Tom has probably never thrown a punch in his life; where Jack instantly assesses every situation and acts with confidence, Tom seems overwhelmed and indecisive; where Jack commands respect and awe, Tom evokes skepticism and doubt.
But all of this is what makes Tom Kirkman a more compelling hero than Jack Bauer. As an American James Bond, Jack is larger-than-life and therefore inaccessible. In contrast, Tom is as ordinary as any one of us – indeed, he could be any one of us. And that is precisely his appeal.
Although Americans tuned into this week’s presidential debate in record numbers, it was less about political awareness and more about gladiatorial spectacle, like fans who watch hockey to see players brawling on the ice or nascar viewers hoping to see fiery crashes. There is a kind of horrified fascination with a race for the White House that is grotesque and obscene in the character, qualifications, and tactics of the combatants.
SALVATION FROM THE FACE IN THE MIRROR
But we shouldn’t be looking for a Jack Bauer to save our country. After all, we aren’t going to find a superman to rid the world of evil with extraordinary powers. What we should be looking for is an everyman, a flesh and blood hero with the inner fortitude to recognize evil, to confront evil, and to stand against evil while preserving his own standards and integrity – and, by doing so, inspiring the rest of us to do the same.
Patience is better than pride, teaches King Solomon. Heroic acts by men of exceptional talent are like fireworks, beautiful and inspiring but vanished in an instant. Better the humble determination of the soldier in the trenches, fighting anonymously for a cause greater than himself, unconcerned with reward or recognition. And if circumstances conspire to thrust a simple man of conviction into the spotlight and hand him the reins of power, will he not rise to the occasion and prove himself equal to the task?
The most insidious fallout from our celebrity culture is that we have come to believe that charisma, bluster, brashness, and adamancy are the qualities that define successful leaders. On the contrary, truly great individuals are able to exert power quietly, like the proverbial iron hand in a velvet glove; they are able to listen to other voices no matter how convinced they are to their own rectitude; and they are willing to share the credit and make concessions when taking a step back will better advance the common good.
So let’s root for a Tom Kirkman to lead the country through the coming days of crisis. He may not be as swashbuckling as Jack Bauer, but he can better remind us of the kind of people we should choose to lead us, and of the kind of people we should aspire to be ourselves.
This Sunday evening, Jews around the world will begin the observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment and the anniversary of Mankind. It is a time for remembering that we are all here to serve a higher purpose, and that we all have the potential to choose the ways of virtue and wisdom over short-sighted selfishness.
If we do, then we can count ourselves among the greatest of heroes.