The Obama Cult of Personality
Democracies are not immune to the dangers of hero worship.
January 23, 2009 - 12:00 am
The tribute paid to President Obama throughout the inaugural celebrations was often surreal. One newspaper image, of throngs of his admirers ecstatically waving American flags on which his picture had been superimposed, especially captured the wildly unrealistic, quasi-idolatrous way in which many of our fellow citizens view him.
The same can be said of the ubiquitous comparisons of Obama to Abraham Lincoln, which Princeton historian Sean Wilentz last year called “absurd” and “tortured.” “To say that a guy who hasn’t served a day in the presidency is Lincolnian,” Wilentz commented, “is ridiculous. Lincoln didn’t even become Abraham Lincoln, at least as we know him, until [he served and, let me add, was sorely tested, as] president.”
To top off this whirlwind of premature and rash judgments, Obama partisans in the House of Representatives proposed — even before he had taken the oath of office — an amendment to the Constitution which would make a third term possible for him. Known currently as House Joint Resolution 5, this item would start the process to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which established the two-term limit on the presidency.
Such glorification of Obama led even acolyte Paul Krugman to observe during the Democratic primary that his campaign appeared “dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality.” Will this same cultishness continue to envelop the Obama presidency? Perhaps not, as the new president is forced to make Solomonic decisions that perforce offend one constituency or another, and if cracks begin to emerge in the mainstream media’s worshipful bias in his favor.
But it is also possible that this personality cult may endure and fructify, especially if the news media continue to suspend critical analysis of Obama’s long-held views and programs. Also, one can ask whether he will choose to use, to cultish ends, the new, well-funded organization, Organizing for America, which he has fashioned from his vast grass-roots political machinery, and which is described in the Los Angeles Times as “an unprecedented standing political army that will await orders from a president.”