cult of obama

Discussion in 'Economics' started by zdreg, Aug 5, 2011.

  1. zdreg


    Weisberg vs. the People
    The authoritarian impulse and the Cult of Obama.

    (Best of the tube this weekend: We'll be on "The Journal Editorial Report" tomorrow talking about the Tea Party. Fox News Channel, 2 and 11 p.m. ET.)

    America, you've been a bad, bad country. And Jacob Weisberg is very cross with you.

    "It is hard to remember a more dismal moment in American politics," Weisberg moans in a column originally written for the Financial Times. It starts out as a standard partisan attack on Republicans for failing to fall into line with liberal dogma--excuse us, "science":

    President Obama is trying to push a jobs agenda. But for the federal government to spur growth or create jobs, it has to spend additional money. The antediluvian Republicans who control Congress do not think that demand can be expanded in this way. They believe that the 2009 stimulus bill, which has prevented an even worse economy over the past two years, is actually responsible for the current weakness. . . .
    Some of the congressional Republicans who are preventing action to help the economy are simply intellectual primitives who reject modern economics on the same basis that they reject Darwin and climate science.
    Darwin is a red herring here. Although disparaging people for holding harmless religious beliefs as "intellectual primitives" is awfully uncivil, we agree with Weisberg that people who "reject" the theory of natural selection are mistaken.

    But the comparison between Keynesian economics and global warmism is on target. Both are liberal dogmas disguised, increasingly thinly, as science. Both are supported by circular logic, and thus lack falsifiability, a necessary characteristic of a scientific theory. If the weather gets warmer, that's because of global warming; if it gets colder, that's "climate change" and proves the theory too. Had unemployment stayed below 8%, as the Obama administration promised it would, that would have proved the "stimulus" worked; since it peaked at 10% and has held steady above 9%, that proves the stimulus wasn't big enough. Heads I win, tails you lose.

    To Weisberg, the failures of the Obama administration prove not only that Republicans are "intellectual primitives" but that you are stupid: Among the "sobering lessons" that "we" have "learned," he writes, is "that there's no point trying to explain complicated matters to the American people."

    Getty Images
    He's smiling, but he's very unhappy with you.

    The FT, by the way, is a London-based newspaper with a far-flung world-wide circulation (though it is smaller than The Wall Street Journal's by an order of magnitude). So when Weisberg says you're stupid, he isn't exactly saying it to your face. Remember when dissent was the highest form of patriotism? We suppose the definitions are flexible here. Bad-mouthing the American people--for dissenting!--is the highest form of patriotism, at least this week.

    Weisberg criticizes Obama, too, but only in a backhanded way. "The president has tried reasonableness and he has failed," Weisberg sobs. "A Congress dominated by mindless cannibals is now feasting on a supine president." (News you can use: Always sleep on your side and you'll wake up uneaten.)

    This all reminded us of another Weisberg piece, published in 2008. Back then, he was much more enthusiastic about the "handsome, brilliant, and cool" Sen. Obama, whose policies, Weisberg claimed, even those who disagreed with them were obliged to acknowledge constituted "serious attempts to deal with the biggest issues we face."

    But Weisberg's attitude toward the American people, if not as openly hostile as it is today, was characterized by a deep suspicion. Obama was not doing as well in the polls as Weisberg thought he should have been, given the all-around awesomeness of the junior senator from Illinois. If Obama lost to John McCain, it could mean only one thing: America was irredeemably racist. (As we noted at the time, in reaching this conclusion Weisberg committed a rookie error of logic, which makes today's pompous pronouncements about "science" all the more hilarious.)

    Weisberg's latest amounts to a lament for democracy. Even if the American people aren't as racist as he suspected you were back in 2008, you aren't up to the challenge of being governed by the handsome, brilliant and cool Barack Obama.

    We would offer an alternative hypothesis: The American people, while imperfect, are basically OK. You just made a mistake in choosing a president. Oh, there were any number of reasons why Obama seemed better than Hillary Clinton or John McCain, and who knows? Maybe either of them would have been even worse. But the point is, Obama was never all that, or even nearly what, he was cracked up to be.

    It takes an authoritarian mindset to look at a failed leader and fault the people for failing to follow him. This is not just an ideological authoritarianism, although it does have that element, as evidenced by Weisberg's peremptory dismissal of opposing viewpoints. But he treats Obama not as what he actually is--a human being and a politician--but as a sort of religious figure--a potential savior in 2008, a martyr in 2011.

    This is the Cult of Obama. Many of the then-candidate's supporters--especially highly educated ones who pride themselves on their superior rationality--saw Obama as a sort of idealized version of themselves. The classic of the genre was a June 2008 column by Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle's website, who, citing unidentified "spiritually advanced people" (we are not making this up), described Obama as "a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being . . . who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment."

    Slightly closer to Earth was a February 2008 essay for the Christian Science Monitor by Warren Bennis and Andy Zelleke, professors at the University of Southern California and Harvard, respectively. Obama, they claimed, has "the edge when it comes to that magical quality known as charisma," a "unique capacity to inspire" that "should not be undervalued." Oh sure, there are some dangers. Bennis and Zelleke pre-empt a ludicrously weak counterargument by conceding that Hitler was charismatic. Then they note:

    A far more mundane disappointment in charismatic individuals is that they sometimes reveal themselves to have been smooth-tongued empty suits without the capacity to deliver results.
    Say what you will about Obama, he certainly isn't smooth-tongued. But Bennis and Zelleke credited him with "unusually strong character and good temperament" and wrote:

    A president with charisma and good character--and, of course, sound policy ideas--would be an invaluable national resource, with the transformational capacity to lift the malaise that is paralyzing so many Americans today.
    Obama seems to have "good character," at least in the everyday sense of being a good husband and father. Then again, so did Richard Nixon and so does Jimmy Carter. But sound policy ideas and charisma? He's no steak and no sizzle.

    And Obama shares Weisberg's frustration with you, the American people. As he said at a Wednesday fund-raiser in Chicago:

    It's been a long, tough journey. But we have made some incredible strides together. Yes, we have. But the thing that we all ought to remember is that as much as good as we have done, precisely because the challenges were so daunting, precisely because we we were inheriting so many challenges, that we're not even halfway there yet. When I said "change we can believe in" I didn't say "change we can believe in tomorrow." Not "change we can believe in next week." We knew this was going to take time because we've got this big, messy, tough democracy.
    We could've sworn we heard something about "the fierce urgency of now," but maybe we were just dreaming. Lots of people were. Reader Kevin Johnson argues that Obama's despairing tone is the antithesis of leadership:

    I served three combat tours in the U.S. Marine Corps and never once heard a leader explain the the challenges of command by noting that his unit and its Marines were flawed or not perfect. Can one imagine a commander declaring, "I'd have done a better job if the situation I had to deal with were better. Let's face it, I'd be a better commander if I didn't have to deal with you Marines. And, by the way, that includes the organization and character of the Marine Corps itself"?
    For every commander I dealt with--some outstanding, others less so--both his command and even the "fog of war" were always givens for that situation. The commander always took personal responsibility.
    Obama refuses to accept personal responsibility, and Cult of Obama die-hards like Weisberg refuse to assign it to him. Too much of their own identity is bound up with their idealized vision of him, so they lash out at those who are not part of the cult. They lash out at you. But try not to take it personally. Anger is depression turned outward.
  2. Roark


    Well said and well written.
  3. JamesL