Friday, August 13, 2010

Harry Potter and Politics: Part 1: George W. Fudge and the Order of the Eagle

Harry Potter and Politics: Part 1: George W. Fudge and the Order of the Eagle
By Patrick Black and Albus Earley

They were warned. For so long they stood in the dark, denying the danger looming overhead. Darkness fell across the land, a greater threat than they imagined was at their door steps, and despite the omens, they stood like ostriches, with their heads in the sands, until it was too late.
What is this describing? There are two possible candidates: The Ministry of Magic under the administration of Cornelius Fudge, and the United States of America under President George W. Bush.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter encountered a resurrected Lord Voldemort, returned from years of parasitism and weakness to emerge again as a threat to the Wizarding world. When he returned to tell the tale, he was believed by some but dismissed by the Ministry of Magic. Cornelius Fudge, then-Minister of Magic, fearing a power-grab by Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was among the most vocal deniers. For the duration of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Fudge and his government did their best to discredit the story, with the aid of the Wizarding newspaper The Daily Prophet, despite insistence by Dumbledore and Harry that he had returned and posed a severe threat to the safety of the Wizarding world. Only at the conclusion of Order of the Phoenix, when Fudge sees the very-real Voldemort with his own two eyes does he recant his position and acknowledge that his world was in great danger.

In August of 2001, while he was vacationing in Texas, President George W. Bush was given a memo entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” and it went unread. Though some advisors would insist that the memo was non-specific to an actual impending attack, other warnings went ignored as well, including those of the British government that the intelligence may have been faulty at best. Yet President Bush (whatever his motives) did little to nothing to prepare for a potential attack. On September 11, 2001, faced with an attack he had failed to prevent, the course of history was changed. The War on Terror would begin shortly thereafter, as al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups were acknowledged as a serious national security threat, to be hunted and exterminated.

George W. Bush and Cornelius Fudge both actively set out to discredit their political opponents. Though President Bush primarily did it after the attack and Fudge primarily before, the campaigns were no less vicious and no less effective. They both operated through their respective propaganda outlets masquerading as credible news sources – Fox News and The Daily Prophet, respectively – which supported the government line from beginning to end, no matter the evidence that was presented to them. The two also put forth the notion that disagreement with them was tantamount to treason, Albus Dumbledore was stripped of his position on the Wizengamot court and Harry Potter was subject to daily ridicule at the hands of the Prophet and Ministry officials. Torture was utilized by both the Bush and Fudge administrations – in the latter case, not by law but without major opposition, as in the case of a Dementor attack in a Muggle city that went uninvestigated and as everyone knows, Guantanamo Bay in the case of Bush Jr.

Perhaps worse than their cruelty and propaganda, however, was the incompetence of each administration. President Bush became famous for his ineptitude in response to almost every major crisis that confronted him – and was criticized for everything from his continued reading of The Pet Goat in the school after being alerted of the attacks to his truly appalling response to Hurricane Katrina. Cornelius Fudge ob the other hand sets new standards for government incompetency in literature. From his ceaseless pandering to known criminals such as Lucius Malfoy, to his endless paranoia that Albus Dumbledore was plotting to usurp him from a position that he had passed on years prior. It came as a surprise to no character, and the readers, when he reveals he had been sacked from his position as Minister at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Both men left their offices with legacies of ineptitude.

Many right wing minded people would be quick to paint Order of the Phoenix as an allegory of the War on Terror from a neo-conservative perspective, casting Dumbledore as President Bush and obstructionist peaceniks and the ominous liberal media as the danger-denying Ministry of Magic and its mouthpiece The Daily Prophet. There are more parallels with the pre-9/11 era than the post-9/11 era. The parallel surely wasn’t deliberate (author Rowling is British so would be less concerned with American politics, plus when the book was written in 2003 such details wouldn’t have been so widely available), and there are holes in the comparison (it could hardly be imagined that George W. Bush feared a power-grab by the British government officials). In the end, the connections are what you make of them. Harry Potter is a deep, rich series; fertile for endless theories, perhaps some of your own.

It is my belief -- and never have I so hoped that I am mistaken -- that we are all facing dark and difficult times. Some of you in this Hall have already suffered directly at the hands of Lord Voldemort. Many of your families have been torn asunder. A week ago, a student was taken from our midst.”-Albus Dumbledore

This post was co-authored with Craig Earley of The Earley Post

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