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26 February 2008

Dominic Lawson: Obama must beware of turning into a cult

Couldn't have said it better myself; best part of the essay is the last few paragraphs. Exactly my concern. It's not the religiosity that bothers me -- though I think it's mostly vote-getting bullshit -- it's the Dear-Leader-worship that is truly scary.

Key quote, my emphasis below:

[Obama] also wrote that for Democrats to shun religiosity is "bad politics" adding: "When we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts ... others will fill the vacuum." Well, if there ever was such a vacuum, Barack Obama is filling it now. As he will certainly have anticipated, many erstwhile Republican voters are seduced by this form of rhetoric and have been indicating that they will vote for Obama. In fact, he has invented a word for these voters: he calls them "Obamicans".

It is interesting that this seems to have been an unmitigated benefit. Not only has Obama successfully made an appeal to Republicans who viewed other Democrats as godless, but the Left has, by and large, ignored its scruples and refused to criticise its candidate's studied use of specifically Christian language and imagery. As a result, Obama has got away with claims to metaphysical virtue which would have been denounced as medievally idiotic presumption, had they been uttered by a Republican candidate.

To Obama's credit, he does not follow the religious Right in denouncing his opponents as wicked. The worst you can say is that this is implicit in his message, rather than explicit. Nevertheless, there is an underlying strain of intolerance in Obama's message of unification. In his victory speech in Wisconsin last week, he made his usual attack on "special interests". "We must put aside the divisions in Washington. We must work for a higher purpose" – or perhaps that should be Higher Purpose. Yet to stigmatise "divisions in Washington" is just acceptable rhetoric for denouncing the workings of a complex pluralistic democracy. For "divisions" read "disagreement" – or "opposition". Obama, of course, is a democrat as well as a Democrat; but there is something in this form of rhetoric that has echoes of fascism, with its idea that the squabbling of mere politicians should be overthrown in favour of one man's uniquely wise interpretation of the National Will. Phrases such as "everything must be changed" were also the stock-in-trade of fascist orators, raising hopes which ended in the most dreadful disillusionment – and worse.

I think Barack Obama understands this risk. For all the fever of his rallies, his own oratorical style never descends into ranting, still less foam-flecked hysteria. Yet the frenzy he has engendered contains within it the seeds of bitter disappointment, or even tragedy. There is the question of his own physical safety. Less morbidly, what will be the reaction of his supporters if he should fail to be elected President? Perhaps most troubling of all, what will be their reaction if he is elected, but the celestial choirs fail to appear and the world refuses to be perfect?

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