Arthur Silber notices that the fawning adoration of Barack Obama is starting to get a little creepy. In fact, it’s getting downright creepy.
Now, I don’t think that Sen. Obama is the sort of type who will have his followers marching through Poland any time soon—but this kind of unthinking devotion to a candidate does not belong in a democratic system. The politics of personality is inherently anti-democratic as it puts the value of the leader above the value of the people.
It’s hardly unusual to see a candidate inspire their partisans—that’s what a good politician does. What is so unusual about Obama is the level of fervor that surrounds him. He is treated like a rock star in a way that even Clinton was not. The Obama campaign is less a traditional campaign that it is a movement. Political campaigns are, or at least should be, about ideals. The Obama movement is about nothing deeper than some vague vision of “change”—a value that could mean everything from marching through Poland to changing the national anthem to “Kumbaya” and inviting Osama bin Laden to a nationwide love-in. “Change” is an empty slogan, the intellectual equivalent of junk food—filling, but never offering anything of substance.
And if it were just about “change” there’s no reason to suspect that Obama would be ahead. Every candidate in this race talked about change. The real force behind the Obama campaign is not mere change, but force of personality. That is what gives Obama his political power, but it is also what makes him such a troubling force. We don’t need more uncritical worship of political figures in society, we need more individualism and vibrancy.
. Instead of rationalizing one’s political choices, we have a bandwagon effect on a nightmare scale.
So what’s the problem? A few people have a political crush? It cuts deeper than that. Those who put their trust in politicians are quickly crushed—and make no mistake, Obama is nothing more than a typical politician when all the rhetoric is put aside. Just witness his contortions on gun control, and his change of heart on telecom immunity. Like any politician, he will say what needs to be said to get elected, and he is doing exactly what a jaded Washington insider would do—which is hardly change one can believe in. When his followers learn that he’s just another pol, all that energy and enthusiasm will quickly fade away and be replaced by even greater apathy—political movements based on personality typically do not last long.
Of course, the other alternative is more troubling. People who need a Leader tend not to be thinking all that rationally. At the risk of breaking Godwin’s Law yet again, even if Sen. Obama is far removed from the sort that would have people burning books, a cult of personality is not compatible with democracy. Not only that, but we’re already getting some disturbing indications of a mob mentality.
One should never put one’s trust in the political class. On one end it breeds disappointment, on the other zealotry. The Obama movement is the first real mass organized political movement of the 21st Century, and if it is the model for those to follow, American democracy may not emerge intact. It won’t be Obama who leads us there, but his little cult of personality is putting us down that path.