As a teenager, I was a big fan of The Who, a band that spoke to my adolescent angst in the tenor of those anti-establishment times. Their classic song Won’t Get Fooled Again by lead guitarist Pete Townshend concludes with the line “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Last week, 2.5 billion people around the world got new bosses. Despite the waves of optimism greeting Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China, we’d all do well to heed Townshend’s words. Don’t expect either of these freshly minted leaders to let loose the winds of change in their domains.
Yes, the Pope likes to cook his own breakfast and Xi visited Muscatine. Iowa, to study agriculture and even made a reunion trip there. But they are both products of sclerotic systems that have lost their way and, more importantly, their moral authority through the bad acts of cadres. Search the headlines for Catholic Church and you’ll find more about scandal, sexual and otherwise, than sanctification.
The true nature of the Chinese leadership isn’t embodied by anything said at the National People’s Congress but by the corruption of Chongqing’s ousted Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, the man who wasn’t there at last week’s national conclave.
Bo ruled autocratically under the banner of Maoist revivalism, stole millions, and was complicit in his wife’s plot to murder an alleged accomplice who threatened to blow the whistle. As I wrote in Asia Times, Bo is still behaving with his customary impunity, even as a prisoner.
The Catholic Church and China’s Communist Party are both organizations that rely on top down leadership and complete loyalty, promising rewards to their acolytes while mainly delivering them to their top echelons, the very people who selected these new leaders. These elites, handpicked by the system that enriches and empowers them, wouldn’t dream of selecting a boss that might rock the boat.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.