Thursday, February 08, 2007

Is Barack Obama a 'Cult of Personality' phenomenon?

Here in Chicago, Sen. Barack Obama has been The Celebrity Politician for a several years.

I'll be honest in that I've always found some of the public regard for him to border on prejudice, and that hasn't altered with Obama's growing public profile. In fact, I think it's gotten worse: witness Joe Biden's controversial (and inherently, condescendingly biased) endorsement of Obama as a "clean, articulate black man", especially when compared to previous African-American presidential candidates.

I also am bothered by the fact that the most common refrain of Obama supporters is that he will, quote-unquote, "bring the country together".

Seriously, what does that sentiment really mean?

After all, are not dictators popular because they "bring their countries together" (albeit by force)? And please don't take that to mean that I am comparing Obama to a dictator. Rather, I am pointing out that someone who possesses a "Cult of Personality" is likely to be seen as being the savior of a country/culture that many of its citizens see as "adrift", or in need of a unifying cause. The fact that such a unifying cause is to be found in one person should be of instant concern: this is how dictators such as Napoleon, Hitler, Franco, Mao, etc. come to and maintain their power.

Here's just few reasons why I am a skeptic:

Exhibit A: Obama's 'returning king'-like visit to Kenya. I'll excuse him the photo op visit to Robben Island, but the manufactured, 'second coming of The Messiah' coverage of his visit to his Father's long-left-behind village was bizare and disturbing. "Who does that Brother think he is?" was something I heard from a number of my friends.

Exhibit B: His appeal to Hollywood, and his need for their approval. Hollywood is a place in which a presidential candidate must be a "Star": in other words, a "Cult of Personality" is necessary to capture their meandering attentions. This will not go over well with middle class Americans, who inherently distrust Hollywood on anything other than their ability to entertain them: "Tell me a story, but keep your political views to yourself, please!"

Exhibit C: The media, first and foremost here in Chicago, has granted Obama carte blanche. The Chicago Sun-Times Washington correspondent, Lynn Sweet, writes Tiger Beat-style mash notes about the junior senator from Illinois. This is the case with nearly every other correspondent, both in print and broadcast media. One day after accounts of Obama's sweetheart real estate deal with indicted Blagojevich svengali Tony Resko appeared, the story was swept under the rug. The fix is clearly in, and no one (at least until the Democrat nominee is chosen at the convention) will subject Obama to the type of scrutiny that is de rigeur for presidential candidates. Instead, we get correspondents like the aforementioned Sweet gushing about how locker room talk at the East Bank Club confirms that Obama has "almost zero body fat."

I have never liked the way Obama tries to play it both ways, exaggerating his African-American heritage and, for all effect and purpose, disavowing his white mother. In focusing solely on his ethnicity as a black man, he makes himself vulnerable to condescending, patronizing adoration as exhibited by Democrats like Biden, (Edward) Kennedy, etc., two men whose circles never interract with a black man or woman outside of a pre-arranged political event. Sorry, but their comments betray them as people who have ideas about African-Americans but no actual relationships with any. As with most of their political bent, theory (what you would ideally like something to be) has no correllation to reality. People are, as Oprah would say, what you would envision them to be.

IMO, Obama's two best-selling books are both helping and hindering his larger goals. I've heard seemingly independent commentators express cynicism about his other career, and whether or not his presidential aspirations are really about his lucrative publishing contracts. It isn't just Conservatives saying ...

"Barack Obama. Saving the world one multi-million dollar book deal at a time."

I think the "Cult of Personality' surrounding Obama is perhaps best evinced by how much adoration has been given over freely to him without examination or reflection, especially by celebrity Democrats (Oprah, George Clooney, Halle Berry, etc.).

Then there is The Speech.

Obama's keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 is routinely cited as evidence of his JFK-esque personnae. And yet that speech is nearly three years old! I know a couple who have listened to Obama speak in more personal, less scipted situations and they were disapointed. He seems uncomfortable in more intimate gatherings and, they said "the 'magic' just wasn't there." And yet, people so want Obama to be "The Perfect Black Man, "the Perfect African-American Presidential Candidate", that they willfully dismiss any evidence contrary to the Cult.

So what is your opinion? Is Obama's embrace of the "Cult of Personality" something that bodes well for his presidential aspirations, or is this something that will ultimately relegate his run to that of historical anecdote?


NY Nana said...

He is a cult of islam member from what I can see, and if the donks stick with him? Come to think of it, they do not have even one decent candidate.

I have a feeling that in 5 years or less, down the line we will hear 'Barak Obama' who?

Welcome back to blogdom!

Anonymous said...

i loved this. great analysis. thanks.