Harry Potter's Lessons
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally was published on September 14 by the Rocky Mountain News under the title, "Lessons for U.S. politicians from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." A revised version appears in the Expanded Edition of Values of Harry Potter
Harry Potter inspires readers of all kinds. As we approach an important election, what lessons do these British books hold for American politicians?
Do the right thing even if it's difficult. Harry's mentor, Professor Dumbledore, tells his students that they must sometimes "make a choice between what is right and what is easy."
Entitlements offer a prime example. Social Security's trustees report that surpluses will "begin to decline in 2011 and then turn into rapidly growing deficits as the baby boom generation retires." The problems facing Medicare "are much more severe." It's easy to ignore the problems, pitch trivial fixes or weakly promise to soak the rich. That course is irresponsible.
Be honest even when it's inconvenient. When the Minister of Magic asks Harry to "stand alongside the ministry" to "give the right impression," Harry responds angrily. Not only did the ministry long deny the truth about Voldemort's threat, but it locked up an innocent person to look tough.
In the Muggle world, both supporters and opponents of the Iraq war can agree the Bush administration overemphasized weapons of mass destruction and neglected to communicate other reasons.
Don't cling to power. Dumbledore urges the minister to "send envoys to the giants," long abused by the magical community, before Voldemort recruits them. The minister whines that "people hate them . . . end of my career." Dumbledore fires back, "You are blinded by the love of the office you hold!"
While candidates sincerely disagree on many issues, too often they are tempted to put power first. For example, politicians routinely load up spending bills with pork for local supporters.
Government is not always the answer. Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix battles Voldemort while the ministry officially denies the threats and smears Dumbledore. The Weasley family needs no government program to invite Harry into their home, and, later, Harry in turn offers a helping hand to the son of a fallen ally.
Independent businesses, not politicians, drive production of the goods and services we need to thrive. Politicians will disagree about welfare policy, and the Potter books offer no advice on the matter. They do show, however, that family and friends provide crucial support systems.
Sometimes government gets it wrong. The ministry resorts to censorship, politically motivated prosecutions, imprisonment on pretense and political manipulation of Harry's school. It sanctions elf slavery and finally falls under Voldemort's influence. Harry and his allies defy the ministry and practice civil disobedience to protect the innocent.
While our government is usually better, it once protected slavery and racist laws, censored the press and took political prisoners (see the Alien and Sedition Acts). Today the government allows censorship in a few cases and prohibits many voluntary exchanges.
While the Potter books don't take a direct stand on such matters, they do warn us to be careful with government power.
Government should protect people's rights. The Aurors compose the respected police force that helps fight Voldemort's forces. Government protects against the Unforgivable Curses that control, harm or kill others.
Our laws protect people from similar uses of force. As any newspaper reports on any day, Muggles don't need wands to hurt others. Governments properly act to protect people from criminal harm. Whatever other debates capture the attention of politicians, they ought not lose sight of that central function.
Give us substance, not empty rhetoric. The Harry Potter books reveal deep political themes, yet they resist politicization.
Just as writers should take care not to claim Harry Potter's sympathy with views on which the books are silent, so politicians should be careful to claim they are working in the mold of JFK, Reagan, FDR or Thomas Jefferson.
Dumbledore offers outstanding closing advice for everyone interested in politics: "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."
Ari Armstrong is the author of Values of Harry Potter (ValuesOfHarryPotter .com) and editor of FreeColorado.com.
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