Sunday, February 10, 2008

Obama as Messiah, the Trance-Inducer Part III

From The Wall Street Journal Web Site

Best of the Web Today - February 7, 2008

By contrast, Barack Obama is nothing but inspiring--so inspiring that it is becoming deeply creepy. The Boston Globe reports on a new music video touting Obama:

  • Inspired by the speech Barack Obama delivered in Nashua the night of the state primary, [of the Black Eyed Peas] set Obama's text to simple guitar and a soulful melody, recruited 36 artists to appear in a music video that was conceived, shot, and edited over three days last week, and posted "Yes We Can" online over the weekend. . . .
    The split-screen video features clips of the candidate speaking alongside shots of R&B singer John Legend, actress Scarlett Johansson, rapper Common, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, actor-singer Nick Cannon, rocker Ed Kowalczyk, and others echoing Obama's spoken words in song. set the song's tempo to synch up with the New Hampshire audience, which supplies the song's rhythm with chants of "We want change, we want change!" . . .
    "I do think it allows people an accessible way into politics," Jesse Dylan said. "Rallies can be dry, but Will has taken the words and dramatized them with these wonderful artists and it gives people an easy way to become passionate."

The video, which you can watch here, depicts people who appear to be in some sort of trance as they mouth along with Obama's various rhetorical flourishes from his speeches, then repeat the mantra "Yes, we can." The whole thing has the feel of a cult of personality.
We aren't the first to make that observation. The other day one Kathleen Geier, who says she voted for Obama and considers him "a good progressive," took to the liberal TPMCafe site to declare that she is "increasingly weirded out by some of Obama's supporters":
She quotes from a Sacramento Bee article that she (and we) found "unsettling":

  • "He looked at me, and the look in his eyes was worth 1,000 words," said [Kim] Mack, now a regional field organizer. Obama hugged her and whispered something in her ear--she was so thrilled she doesn't remember what it was. . . .
    She urged volunteers to hone their own stories of how they came to Obama--something they could compress into 30 seconds on the phone.

As Geier notes, "this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign":

  • The language used here is the language of evangelical Christianity--the Obama volunteers speak of "coming to Obama" in the same way born-again Christians talk about "coming to Jesus."
    But he's not Jesus! He's not going to magically enable us to transcend the bitter partisanship that is tearing this country apart.

ABC's Jake Tapper notes other enthusiasts and detractors from the enthusiasm, all on the Democratic left. "I've been following politics since I was about 5," Chris Matthews tells the New York Observer. "I've never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament."
On the other side, Times Joe Klein writes that there is "something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism" of the Obama campaign, which "all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is." Adds the dyspeptic leftist James Wolcott:

  • Perhaps it's my atheism at work but I found myself increasingly wary of and resistant to the salvational fervor of the Obama campaign, the idealistic zeal divorced from any particular policy or cause and chariot-driven by pure euphoria. . . . I don't look to politics for transcendence and self-certification.

What are we to make of Obama himself in the midst of all this adulation? A cynic would say that he is a manipulator if not a demagogue, exploiting the gullible to further his own ambitions. A more charitable view is that his intentions are all to the good, that he has simply figured out how to tap into a genuine desire for inspiration in politics, and that if elected he will use his political powers to do good for the country.
Each view seems plausible, but which is correct? Does anyone know Barack Obama well enough to say? And if not, isn't he the candidate who has a problem with authenticity?

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