The Obama Cult? Hardly.

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Barack

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Barack Obama is endlessly fascinating – not just because of who he is but because of the ardent support he inspires. Some people consider his appeal analogous to a cult movement. Others say that’s hogwash, it’s just typical excitement.

When it comes to Obama, some people get it and others don’t. I would consider myself a third class: someone who gets it but isn’t buying it.

There is, I think, a great thirst in America for a leader to pull us out of the animosity and dysfunction of the recent past. This isn’t a liberal or conservative thing. Ron Paul inspired his own brand of fervent support mainly because he was so clearly different from the status quo. It is telling that in my neighborhood I have seen multiple houses switch their Ron Paul signs for Obama signs. Either they actually switched from wanting almost no federal government to wanting lots and lots of federal government, or they’re just desperate to shake up the nation, no matter the specific policies of who does the shaking.

The change Obama supporters seek is not merely a change of policy, it’s far more radical. They want a change in the tenor of our nation, in our political personality, in the very fabric of our nation’s soul. The so-called empty rhetoric of Obama is only empty if you don’t believe his promises are possible. But if you do think America can and should reform its divisive ways (at home and abroad), Obama seems the perfect leader, the right man at the right time.

Is it cultish to buy into Obama’s promises of unity? No. It may be profoundly foolish but hopeful naiveté is a far less dangerous thing than unquestioning devotion. If Obama stood up tomorrow and asked his supporters to take up arms against Clinton’s supporters, his political career would end immediately. He inspires a hopeful ardor not a blind obedience. Those are two hugely different things.

Even though I admit to being made a little uncomfortable with some of the overexcited displays of affection for Obama, I’m actually pleased to see that we as a nation have not become so cynical as to reflexively reject someone like him. Sometimes I feel like a cynic myself for not supporting him. But my aversion to Obama is not his rock star image, it’s his policy positions. That probably makes me a square but I tend to think calls for unity are only valid if he who makes the call has proven himself capable of actually creating unity.

I think Obama is far too liberal to ever get those on the right to stop their attacks and create a more unified nation. To me, he has a lot of the right words but too few of the right positions. I wish his platform were more innovative and less cut-and-paste liberal. I wish his sincere desire to unite us was coupled with an equally powerful platform designed to achieve just that.

Still, the fact that Obama is currently more words than action doesn’t make his candidacy anything close to a cult movement. Those who argue it is are guilty of unnecessary hyperbole.


This entry was posted on Friday, March 7th, 2008 and is filed under Barack. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Responses to “The Obama Cult? Hardly.”

  1. John Says:

    Obama
    Just Words

    :)

  2. Georgee Says:

    Obama is the substance! He is not full of lies or hatrid. He is filled with calm intelligence, heart that feels others pain and the mind that can lead the world.

    It is wonderful to have the young, smart and “right” guy as the leader of our nation. There is not much difference between their policies. The question is if we deserve Obama. Maybe for us bickering small minded people, Clinton is just the president we deserve. I look at the poll and feel depressed about 8 dark years ahead of us.

  3. Bill Vroom Says:

    Obama will fix your computer! What more do you want? http://obamawill.com explains it all.

  4. michael reynolds Says:

    Alan:

    I agree with you. And I’ll go further: this is the stupidest line of attack I’ve seen in quote a while. People who imagine themselves clever, cynical and wise who end up sounding like twits. Do they really think you get elected by attacking hope and optimism? In this country?

  5. Jim S Says:

    Alan,

    There is no such thing as someone capable of being a Democrat who could stop the attacks from the right. One does not have to be extremely liberal for this to be true. Given the attacks from the right on McCain I would think that you would realize this.

  6. axt113 Says:

    The words of his collegue Cass Sunstein:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cass-r-sunstein/the-obama-i-know_b_90034.html

    *These are points about policies and substance. As president, Obama would set a new tone in US politics. He refuses to demonize his political opponents; deep in his heart, I believe, he doesn’t even think of them as opponents. It would not be surprising to find Republicans and independents prominent in his administration.

    Obama wants to know what ideas are likely to work, not whether a Democrat or a Republican is responsible for them. Recall the most memorable passage from his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention: “We coach Little League [baseball] in the blue [Democratic-voting] states, and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.”

    In his book The Audacity of Hope, he asks for a politics that accepts “the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point”. Remarking that ordinary Americans “don’t always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal”, Obama wants politicians “to catch up with them,”

    After he received an email from a pro-life doctor, Obama recalls how he softened his website’s harsh rhetoric on abortion, writing: “[T]hat night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own — that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.”

    In short, Obama’s own approach is insistently charitable. He assumes decency and good faith on the part of those who disagree with him. And he wants to hear what they have to say. Both in substance and in tone, Obama questions the conventional political distinctions between “the left” and “the right”. To the extent that he is attracting support from Republicans and independents, it is largely for this reason.

    From knowing Obama for many years, I have no doubts about his ability to lead. He knows a great deal, and he is a quick learner. Even better, he knows what he does not know, and there is no question that he would assemble an accomplished, experienced team of advisers. His brilliant administration of his own campaign provides helpful evidence here.

    But there is some fragility to the public fervor that envelops him. Crowds and cults can be fickle, and if some of his decisions disappoint, or turn out badly, his support will diminish. Some people think it might even collapse.

    My own concern involves the importance of internal debate. The greatest American presidents (above all Lincoln and Roosevelt) benefited from robust dialogue and from advisers who avoided saying, “how wonderful you are,” and were willing to say: “Mr President, your thinking about this is all wrong.”

    Because Obama himself is exceptionally able, and because so many people are treating him as a near-messiah, his advisers might be too deferential, too unwilling to question. There is a real risk here. But I believe that his humility, and his intense desire to seek out dissenting views, will prove crucial safeguards.

    In the 2000 campaign, Bush proclaimed himself a “uniter, not a divider”, only to turn out to be the most divisive President in memory. Because of his own certainty, and his lack of curiosity about what others might think, Bush polarized the nation. Many of his most ambitious plans went nowhere as a result.

    As president, Barack Obama would be a genuine uniter. If he proves able to achieve great things, for his nation and for the world, it will be above all for that reason.*

  7. Alan Stewart Carl Says:

    Jim,

    Not the far right, no. They’re more interested in power than ideas or solutions to ever be united to anything but their own egos. But I think there can be Democrats who win over enough of the right as to leave the Limbaughs of the world on their own island. The trick is to also leave the divisive elements of the left on the same island so the vast majority of decent folk can get on with the business of the nation without getting sucked into the fights started by the wingers.

  8. Michael van der Galiën Says:

    No cult?
    “Obama is the substance! He is not full of lies or hatrid. He is filled with calm intelligence, heart that feels others pain and the mind that can lead the world.”
    Umh.
    “The question is if we deserve Obama.”
    Yeah. It’s like, he’s actually too good for you guys, isn’t he? He’s that perfect.

    MIchael R.: I don’t think there’s anything stupid about that line of criticism. I’m Dutch, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s worshiping of a politician, at least from a Dutch perspective it’s way out of line, pathetic even.

    O, and my more anti-American friends would say; and typically American.

    Who knows.

  9. Alan Stewart Carl Says:

    Michael,

    Maybe we Americans also have more experience with honest-to-god cults. I don’t think Obama’s supporters are going to end up living in a compound togother awaiting the messiah or aliens to arrive. I think you can criticize the lack of substance in the rhetoric without turning towards the cult label. It’s a huge overstatement and confuses hopeful exubreance with blind devotion.

    But, yeah, it’s typically American. We get this way about American Idol too.

  10. TerenceC Says:

    Mikey,

    Dat hangt er van af. Dutch history is over populated with meglomaniacs, “cult leaders”, crazy kings and queens, conquests, congueror and conguered, compromised republics and democracies, ridiclous speculation, and endless religious war. Almost sounds like the US only without the guilt, social repression, Eel sandwiches, and legalized marijuana and prostitution (both a great idea by the way). No country has a monopoly on stupidity – although being American I like to think we do.

  11. Jerry I Says:

    This article makes sense if you assume Obama will try to chance the Washington culture from the inside out. Suppost you assume he will go directly to the people and try to change it from the outside in.

    This, in my opinion, is his appeal. He tells people, come with me to Washington and let us change things, not, SEND ME to Washington and wait for results.

    This from and old High School grad, white male, whose dreams died with Robert Kennedy

  12. TerenceC Says:

    Jerry

    Well done…….

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