Call me naïve, but for most of my life I have had heroes, seemingly immutable principles, beliefs and hopes and even faith. Each has peeled off me like the skins of an onion until coming to believe in nothing much, eschew hope, deem most principles self-serving and finding malleable clay at the feet of all my heroic statuary.
My first heroes were, of course, the simple projections of a child. John F. Kennedy, John XXIII. Later I reveled in the contemporary literary figures such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Heinrich Böll, Nikos Kazantzakis. As a journalist, my patron saints were H.L. Mencken and I.F. Stone and Seymour Hersch.
Indeed, the latter's Dark Side of Camelot, which I lacked the stomach to finish, slayed the moral standing of my beloved Bobbie Kennedy as surely a St. George skewered the dragon. Robert F. Kennedy remains at best an outstanding stylist, as evidenced in the exquisitely prose in Thirteen Days -- assuming it was not the work of a ghostwriter, as his golden speeches were.
There were many other admirable figures, Alexander Dubcek, Pierre Trudeau, Hannah Arendt, over the years but none set in bronze or stone as notably as the first ones. None all that larger in life than the professors or most brilliant fellow students or colleagues.
By the time Barack Obama came along in 2008, with oratory that exuded an inspiring whiff of Camelot, the hero was a relatively pedestrian figure, no longer riding a grand white horse. Obama promised -- he did promise, whatever the White House hacks now want to say -- to set in motion at last many of the much needed changes in our society and, indeed, the world.
To say he has disappointed is an understatement.
We are entering this year an age of mental midgets and grand demagogues and no religion, ideology, or idea has been left standing to hold up as a yardstick, a goal or an aspiration. 2011 is the year without heroes, without hope, the year of muddling through.