Friday, January 23, 2009

The Cult Icon as President

There are two outstanding pieces today on the cult of personality surrounding President Barack Obama.

Candace de Russy, in "
The Obama Cult of Personality," suggests some elements of the classic personality cult:
The key point about personality cults, as summarized at Wikipedia (italics mine), is that in modern times they occur “when a country’s leader uses mass media to create a heroic public image through unquestioning flattery and praise.” Moreover:
  • A cult of personality is similar to general hero worship, except that it is created specifically for political leaders. Generally, personality cults are most common in regimes with totalitarian systems of government, that seek to radically alter or transform society according to (supposedly) revolutionary new ideas. Often, a single leader becomes associated with this revolutionary transformation, and comes to be treated as a benevolent “guide” for the nation, without whom the transformation to a better future cannot occur. This has been generally the justification for personality cults that arose in totalitarian societies of the 20th century, such as those of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.
  • Although more uncommon, democratic societies also have examples of political figures who have been noted to have some traits of a cult of personality [for instance, President John F. Kennedy and Argentina's Juan PerĂ³n and his wife Eva].

Here’s hoping and sincerely trusting that Obama will prove not to be an overbearing state-builder, not to have a “tsar” complex. Hopefully the feelings of grandeur that he surely has felt and will feel, as a result of the often unbridled adulation he has received, will not lead him into attempting to institute a personality cult.

Actually, it's an important question as to whether he hasn't already instituted the cult. As Peter Wehner points out, the Obama presidency is already a "phenomenon":

We are in the midst of a political phenomenon. It is fairly extraordinary, and perhaps beyond anything we have seen in our lifetime. Our new president, Barack Obama, is not only the head of government; he has become a cultural symbol with rock-star appeal. I know people - lifelong Republican voters - who at one point viewed Obama with something close to contempt, who began to warm to him a bit during the presidential debates, and who now wish they had cast their vote for Obama. He takes office with his popularity near 80 percent and the political winds at his back.
Wehner continues by noting that one progressive pundit called forth images of Jesus in describing Obama's inaugural address as the moment when the "Word became flesh," an echo of the Gospel of St. John.

As one who is surrounded daily by college students, I can attest that the younger generation - at least my sample of it from the greater Long Beach area - is fully invested in the Obama cult of personality. I heard students this week, while discussing the inauguration crowds, chanting "na na na na, na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye ... " That was kind of creepy, actually.

Wehner warns against outsized expectations, and of the likely fall to earth for Obama, the mere mortal that he is - a point I've made repeatedly during classroom discussions.

9 comments:

Norm said...

Often cult leaders need an enemy so he/she can lead the masses in hatred.
I think we should all follow the words of the sometimes Jewish, sometimes Christian great songster, Bob Dylan:
"Don't follow leaders, pay your parking meters"

Comparing Obama to Jesus gets this Jewish guy very, very nervous. I think Jesus would be very, very
nervous.

Anyone have a quarter?

Donald Douglas said...

Like I said at the post, Norm, it kind of creepy out there.

Thanks for commenting.

Tim said...

Hmm. How quickly some forget a guy named Ronald Reagan...

Who, btw, had the second highest viewing of his inauguration. (Obama surely had the highest, when you factor in the online streaming views.)

TRUTH 101 said...

How dare you invoke the sacred name of Ronald Reagan on this holy site Tim! Blasphemy I tell you. Delete Tim's sacreligious words at once before we all pay as Lot's wife did 3,000 years ago Professor!

Norm said...

The enemy is Rush !

Donald Douglas said...

Rush Limbaugh, Norm?

I saw some controversy on him somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Norm, I believe it's "don't follow leaders,watch the parkin' meters."

You realize that's the song the Weathermen took their name from as well, I assume.

Grace Explosion said...

I saw Obama interviewed by a top MSM personality. That man stated that Obama was the nation's messiah - and Obama said nothing to correct him. He ate it up. That shows how sick he really is. (And evil.) This CULTURE is not "somehow" responsible for the personality cult. They've responded to Obama's deification of himself. He's ultimately responsible in projecting that he's some sort of messiah (the antichrist). People are responsible for their responses.

Average American said...

Might as well go with Dylan Norm. After all, the other side does---"the times they are a changing". They don't yet realize that they are a changing the wrong way though.