The cult-like worship of Barack Obama

Obama at the beachAs longtime readers know, I’ve been very critical of Senator Barack Obama at this blog, even before he officially announced his candidacy, only praising him once that I can recall. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the O-man, but I want to make clear that I hold no personal ill-will towards the junior Senator from Illinois. He seems like he’d be a nice guy. I just don’t think he’s fit to be president of the United States, for reasons mentioned in the posts I linked to in this paragraph. He’s too liberal, very inexperienced, and has very, very bad ideas on how to conduct foreign policy.

Some of you may be wondering why I put up a picture of Barack Obama at the beach, which was first printed in People magazine in January 2007. It was a picture that deeply embarassed him at the time, because he wanted to be taken seriously as politician, not as some beefcake Senator. I’m not posting that picture to suggest that he’s an empty suit. He’s accomplished in his own right and obviously serves his constituency well, judging by the overwhelming number of votes he rec’d in Illinois on Super Tuesday. The reason I posted a pic of him at the beach, rather than in a business suit, is because this is the way I view the candidacy of Barack Obama: it’s political beefcake. Lots of style and glitz, but very little in the way of substance – and what little substance that is there is very troubling, for reasons I’ve already mentioned.

Recently, I got into a debate with a fervent Barack Obama supporter at a political forum I frequent, and I told him that I would start taking his comments about Barry O. more seriously when he stopped writing about him like a “correspondent” would for Teen Beat magazine. The guy gushes about him like he’s the Messiah. In another thread, he was telling me about an Obama event he went to where there was an overflow crowd, and he said the only time he had ever seen a crowd that “into” someone was when he went to see the Doors in concert, to which I responded that that must be the reason so many in the Obama crowds I see in pictures look upon BO in adoration: because they’re all on an acid trip (I was joking, so spare me the nasty emails, BO fans!). It is not uncommon to see this type of adulation in the liberal blogosphere (among many, but not all), but it has been uncommon for people to acknowledge the cult-like worship … until now1.

Jake Tapper has a piece up (h/t: Memeorandum) at his Political Punch blog that talks about Obama supporters and pundits alike who are taking notice of the near Jesus-like devotion of some of Obama’s fan following, and how bizarre it is. And, more imporantly, what brought it on. Liberal Joe Klein, who has felt the liberal hate before, is no doubt feeling it again today after his critique of Barack Obama in a piece titled “Inspiration vs. Substance.” In it, he wrote:

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Barack Obama said in yet another memorable election-night speech on Super-Confusing Tuesday. “We are the change that we seek.” Waiting to hear what Obama has to say — win, lose or tie — has become the most anticipated event of any given primary night. The man’s use of pronouns (never I), of inspirational language and of poetic meter — “WE are the CHANGE that we SEEK” — is unprecedented in recent memory. Yes, Ronald Reagan could give great set-piece speeches on grand occasions, and so could John F. Kennedy, but Obama’s ability to toss one off, different each week, is simply breathtaking. His New Hampshire concession speech, with the refrain “Yes, We Can,” was turned into a brilliant music video featuring an array of young, hip, talented and beautiful celebrities. The video, stark in black-and-white, raised an existential question for Democrats: How can you not be moved by this? How can you vote against the future?

And yet there was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism — “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” — of the Super Tuesday speech and the recent turn of the Obama campaign. “This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different. It’s different not because of me. It’s different because of you.” That is not just maddeningly vague but also disingenuous: the campaign is entirely about Obama and his ability to inspire. Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause — other than an amorphous desire for change — the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.

The “mass messianism” started when then-state senator Barack Obama gave the keynote speech at the 2004 DNC. Democrats took notice. Since that moment, on a national level, Barack Obama’s trademark has been his ability to give a great speech and “lift people up.” But still, the substance is lacking. Less than a decade in the Illinois state senate 2 and a half years in the US Senate – roughly half of that time spent campaigning – does not a president make. Yet he makes people “feel good” – and that’s supposed to be all that really matters.

Some would say in response, “But ST – what about Reagan and his inspirational speeches?” Yeah, yeah. But there was a lot more substance to Reagan when he was elected president in comparison to Barack Obama now. Oddly enough, Barack Obama once believed he himself was too inexperienced to be on a national ticket … shortly after he was elected to serve in the US Senate:

Obama’s own farewell to his colleagues in Springfield, on November 8, 2004, was less eloquent but no less heartfelt. Afterward, he faced the Springfield press corps for the last time. Someone asked why he had already ruled out running on a national ticket with Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008. His answer was crisp and immediate. “You know” Obama replied, “I am a believer in knowing what you’re doing when you apply for a job. And I think that if I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket I would essentially have to start now, before having served a day in the Senate. Now, there are some people who might be comfortable doing that, but I’m not one of those people.”

In January of 2005 he began his first term in the Senate. A year and a half later, he started considering a run for president. Several months later, in early February 2007, he declared his candidacy in Springfield, Ill, at the Old State Capitol, ‘where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech against slavery in 1858.

Others may say, “But what about Obama’s promise to reach across the aisle and heal divisions? Why aren’t you impressed?” My response: Read and heed. Yours truly was fooled by a sweet talking Democrat back when she herself was a liberal. It’s a mistake she won’t make again as a diehard conservative. Lofty talk and empty rhetoric no longer moves me. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.2

In response to “Obamania,” Andrew Stuttaford writes:

Preachy, saccharine and infused with resentment, the Obama campaign is, quite clearly, aimed more at the heart than the head. That may not please the more intellectually honest of his supporters, but, judging by the ecstatic response the senator has succeeded in generating among an impressive number of voters, it has been a very, very smart thing to do. It’s much more likely to win over the country than a campaign pushing the details of the fairly conventional left-liberal agenda that would, in all likelihood, be the stuff of an Obama presidency. I’d expect the preachiness, the tent revival frenzy, and, of course, the occasional spasms of pundit glossolalia, to continue.

I’d also add that there’s nothing wrong with being an inspiring and uplifting candidate. Goodness knows it’d be wonderful to have a conservative nominee who could enthuse depressed Republicans. But along with that should come a wealth of experience and knowledge, and a strong will to win – especially in these oh-so-turbulent times. To put it another way, the geek sitting in the cushy chair at Starbucks would impress me much more than a Tony Atlas type. Tony might be appealing on a surface level, but the geek would appeal more to the intellect. Especially if I caught the geek3 with his face buried in a Thomas Sowell book ;)

Tom Maguire thinks there will be a backlash in the press against Barack Obama, but that it would only happen about six months into his presidency.

I, for one, am hoping one happens (soon) but most definitely not the other, because about the only thing standing in the way of an Obama presidency outside of Hillary Clinton is for the media to have a wake-up call, an event I would predict is highly unlikely. They’re too enraptured with the thought of a first black president (or first female president, for that matter) to care about little things like the details.

  1. I am not suggesting that every Barack Obama supporter is someone who favors style over substance, and am not even certain that even half of the BO fan base views him as a rock star, but I think a substantial number don’t give a rip about his platform, and admire him for superficial reasons. [back]
  2. No, I’m not saying BO is another Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was obviously a sleazoid. BO appears to be a pretty upstanding guy. But the smooth talking similarities between the two can’t be ignored. [back]
  3. No offense intended to geeks. I am one, too, after all! [back]

Comments are closed.