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There's a problem when most voters think the problems can be solved without making any sacrifices or anybody resigning. Obama's supporters have a quasi-religious faith in him. In Hungary, too, people place unrealistic hopes in the politicians of the future. The problem is not with people thinking their idol is a messiah. The problem comes when the messiah himself starts to believe it.


The campaign in the US is hotting up. Barack Obama is the most enigmatic figure. Before he appeared on the scene, he was a virtual unknown compared to Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Despite this, he has managed to turn himself into a kind of political messiah for voters anxious to turf out the Republicans.

Here, there is a real possibility of early elections in a few months' time if the Gyurcsany government is unable to garner a parliamentary majority. Those wanting change have largely fixed their hopes on Viktor Orban. The common theme is that the entire political debate is being conducted in an atmosphere of exaggerated expectations. This makes it easier for the politicians in question to win the election.

But it makes rational government much harder. It's hard to match up to a rose-tinted portrait. Disappointment is likely to follow. Another common theme is that bnoth countries are facing crises of credibility.

In every country, there are occasional cases of governments lying. But that the culprit - Gyurcsany himself - has admitted this, and stayed in power despite doing so, is something unusual. In the US, it emerged that the excuse for invading Iraq - that the country had weapons of mass destruction - was false. The present conflict looks to be unwinnable. Furthermore, in times of war, every democratic opposition suspects the government of lying. In times of crisis, most people feel a need for political miracle workers who can solve all the problems with a wave of the wand - in pain-free fashion, if at all possible. Politicians seeking power have to play to that sentiment.

This kind of campaign ecstacy is shared not only by supporters: Obama has been proficient at making the best use of it. Let's admit that it would be strange if we asked a plumber or a salesman at the door if they believed in God, and if so, which one. Because it's not really relevant if you just want to get a leak fixed. But in politics, and especially in the US, this is not the case. People are interested not just in the candidates professional skills - rhetorical gifts, education and political experience - but also in whether the candidate is a good Christian. Protestant, if possible. While Catholic, Jewish or Muslim candidates might be run to scoop up the votes of the minorities, it's unimaginable that a candidate for senator or governor might be an atheist or even indifferent to religion.

Kisalfold recently ran a report on the US elections, asking Hungarians living there about what they were seeing. One of them said: "To be a candidate, you have to have a normal family background, religious belief and strong national feelings. Faith is central for us. There's no difference between Democrats and Republicans on this." Since the Democrats are not interested in revisiting the free-market ideology that underpins the US's social philosophy, the focus is on symbolic politics. And here, the Right tends to be stronger. Since World War II, Democrats have only been able to win by running highly charismatic candidates.

We live in a secular society, of course, where religious belief is less central. But we do have subsitute gods. There are plenty of unrealistic desires and dreams that politicians have to have an answer for. Since these desires are impossible to satisfy, the truth is bound to disillusion people. This means that many party sympathisers embrace Orban with such grotesque rapture.

Orban cannot be blamed for the excessive hopes bestowed in him. But at the same time, the tribal voters' raptures could spread to the simple protest voters as well. This could be a problem for Orban. If he wins, he will have trouble dampening down expectations. Fidesz will be returning to power after at least six years, but at most eight. The worst thing for a starving man is to start wolfing down his first meal in ages.

László Tamás Papp

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