That's it, isn't it? "Humankind cannot bear very much reality," as T S Eliot put it, see below, and we're complicit in the forgetting of the gap between promise and reality, until reality bites back against the rhetoric and we know ourselves. We're angry with ourselves for - as the song puts it - getting fooled again and for letting ourselves get fooled again. Fooling ourselves again. It's the self-knowledge that hurts. Not so easy to forget that both "Thatcher" and "Blair" (just surnames - think about that) both won landslide victories. Most of us - most of our parents - voted for them. Winning at our expense, with our "blessing", is hard to forgive.
There's a quotation - quote - that goes around, although I haven't seen it lately. "No-one pretends that democracy is perfect and all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Winston Churchill, speaking in 1947. Well put together, and you can just about hear him pause to let the amusement ripple through his audience. Churchill was Prime Minister through the Second World War, and then, at the brink of peace, he was ejected in favour of Clement Atlee - in a landslide, 393 seats to 197. I remember relatives speaking of betrayal, but the historical record suggests that "the British people" had had enough of war leadership.
I think about the wisdom of the electorate, and now I'm starting to think that politicians describe who we are. Maybe not in the indecisive decades, when nobody really wins big (and the wisdom of the electorate is to limit the power of political leaders), but whenever there's a properly decisive swing in one direction or another - that's who we are, because we're susceptible to that particular set of promises at that particular moment. We were "Thatcherite" once, then after a brief interval we chose "Blairism", and right at this moment we're dreaming of "Corbynism" while not giving anybody enough of a mandate to do anything. We were in a "We shall never surrender!" mood in the early stages of The War, then we gave Atlee and his government the mandate to set up the National Health Service.
We kind of know, don't we, that Jeremy Corbyn isn't going to deliver Utopia in this green and pleasant land? No offence to the man, and that isn't a reason not to vote for him, but he isn't. He's human and so are we. Perhaps "Corbynistas" are letting themselves believe in a prospect than is greater than is achievable, and perhaps that belief is a measure of the scale of the eventual disillusionment - but no matter. Whenever the next landslide comes, whoever is elected leader, it will indicate the promises - the dreams, perhaps - that we want to follow.
And after the dreams, we'll wake up. Again.
But I still haven't answered my own question. We know all this. We know who we are; we know who they are. What is it in us - that we let them get to us?
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
T S Eliot (Burnt Norton, 1935)
There was an elderly politician, decades out of power, writing the other day about what "we" (sic) "must" (sic) do. Sigh. Such people are occasionally awarded the title "national treasure", as though age and familiarity matter more than promises not kept and harm done. Younger politicians - literally, if there's a propitious conjunction of gender, image and photo-op - come to sit at their feet. But they're entertainment by then; at best, they make credible space-fillers in political magazines.
"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs." So said Enoch Powell. But - really? Political careers do end in failure, of course. Sometimes - not in this country - politicians die at the hands of other politicians. More often than not, though, the reward for seeking the power to intervene politically in the lives of populations - is irrelevance. We must, must we? Thanks for letting us know.