Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obama: Cult of Personality?

Barack Obama at Key Arena, Seattle. Feb 8, 2008. photo Jesse Wendel/Group News Blog.

I've gone to great pains to proclaim my neutrality between the candidates, and it's genuine. I like them both, and I see their differences as small. For certain, I'll vote for whomever heads the Democratic ticket this fall. Really.

Some folks have suggested Clinton operatives are pushing "Obama as cult" around the press. Please don't tell me I'm being told to think this about cults. I hadn't read Krugman's article when I came to the same conclusion about Obama as a cult of personality. And I did so all on my own.

I went to both the Clinton and the Obama rallies here in Puget Sound last Thursday night/Friday afternoon. (More detailed reports to follow; consider this a sidebar.)

The Clinton rally Thursday night at Pier 30 was remarkable to me in three ways:

1. Personally, for how the staff knew I was coming and took care of me, even though I was late, bringing me through the long lines of people, getting up on the riser with the rest of the national press, bringing me water for my medicine. They were smooth and professional, without being cloying in any way.

2. Clinton presented a plan to withdraw for Iraq which I found detailed, specific, and credible. She then did the same with her plan for universal health care, and after giving details, she said, "I have staked my campaign on universal health care."

3. The crowd was inspired by her, cheered for her, but all in the ordinary way of a political rally. Call it 2-1 women, 30+ white/Hispanic, and happy to be there.

Friday morning I headed out to the Obama rally. They made the press wait outside in 40 degree cold in the wind for an hour before letting us in to searches and more waiting around, showing of press credentials and signing in. The Obama staff didn't know me from Adam and couldn't have cared less. (Sam, on their national blogging team has been nice to me.)

Frozen, I headed down to the convention floor. While I won't go into details (I hate process stories), I'll simply say the Obama volunteers pushed the local press around. I made it clear as a national blogger I wasn't going to put up with crap at all.

In comparison to how the Clintons treated the press, the Obama people treated the press disrespectfully and arrogantly. Furthermore, they didn't have anyone available to us except starry-eyed volunteers.

Shorter me: the Clinton camp was respectful of me and other press. The Obama camp was arrogant as all hell (with the exception of national web-guy Sam.) HUGE difference, and differences like this in my experience come from the top down.

Then came the actually Obama event. The best I can liken it to is a cross between a rock concert and a religious revival. The place was filled, probably over 20,000 people (the Clinton event was only 3,000+ people) and both turned people away. From the moment Obama hit the stage, everyone (but the press) was on their feet and never sat down.

Obama almost never got into specifics. It was change, change, save the country, change, yes we can, change. He did talk about both his health care plan and his education plan, and gave specifics in both cases, briefly. But then it was back to broad strokes. He spent a lot of time defending himself against the lack of experience charge.

Then Obama ended with "there is a moment in the the life of every generation where we decide. This is our moment. We will win. Together we will change the world."

Watching Obama reminded me VERY strongly of watching Werner Erhard, the est leader, on stage in front of tens of thousands of people in the 80s (and on videotape of Erhard at the Hollywood Bowl in the 70s.) Obama has precisely the same kind of universal appeal, the same kind of declarative "making a difference" saving the world approach. He's even using many of the same words and the crowd ate it up.

Well, daughter #3, Kyle, 17, didn't. But then she's hung out with transformational speakers since she was a kid, so she's had her shots against this stuff. She said, "A lot of people who were all excited were yelling and cheering over stuff that didn't really seem that exciting but everyone was really excited anyway no matter what he said, even though it didn't seem very inspiring to me."

Because Obama is not saying what he is for, not laying out specifics, and not making genuine promises, but instead making powerful declarations, making himself the candidate with whom everything changes and NEVER SPECIFYING WHAT IN THE HELL THAT MEANS, people are free to, and they damn well are, projecting onto Obama all their hopes and dreams for a better future. He is their mother, their father, their lover, confessor, their priest, their shining city on a hill.

Obama event, Key Arena, Seattle, February 8, 2008. photo Jesse Wendel. Click for LARGE.

When the mass media which as we all know is in the bag for the Republicans, tears Obama down off the pedestal they presently are promoting him on, it will rip the heart out of these children of our future, much as it destroyed the hopes of the JFK/MLK generation four decades ago.

And the media is coming for Obama. Just as soon as they've got him where they want him, which is running against McCain. He's better ratings than Clinton, and (editorial assessment) Rove/Bush and the Republicans do NOT want to run against Clinton, who has whupped them every time she's run against them.

The kids supporting Obama at the Seattle event, from the volunteers to the people in the stands, seemed high, as in not in full control of themselves. That they were high with a peak experience is great and good for them, but they still weren't in control. They were filled with this great joy. They bumped into things and laughed.

When I talked to them, all were thrilled I was there to write a great story about the Senator. When I softly corrected them I was just there to write a story on the event and what happened, not to make it great about the Senator, you could see their claws come out, anger cross their face, and then as one, they would paste a smile on, almost as if they knew they had to be nice to someone not yet in the club.

I've been around cults, religions, and high-dominance authoritarian institutions much of my life. While I won't go so far as to call the Obama organization a cult, as clearly the volunteers live out in the world and have their lives, people are VERY focused on Obama and don't really know much about what he stands for (and he's not saying.) They are making a demon out of Clinton, and get very twitchy when crossed. The volunteers are putting their hopes and dreams into Obama.

This at the least, approaches a serious cult of personality, and perhaps more. It is easily up to the Werner Erhard / George W. Bush level, and without much trouble, will go further.

Such personality veneration has never played well with others, and it isn't now.

NOTE: Nothing in this post should be construed as an endorsement of either Democratic candidate for president. It is an article with facts and opinions about politics. I have not made up my mind, and GNB is not endorsing any candidate until there is a clear nominee. I intend to add this to all my political posts from now till we have a nominee.