Cult of personality
bad news for nation
June 9, 2013
A few stray geese splashed in puddles left by an overnight rain on a vacant athletic field in a quiet Grant Park in Chicago last weekend. The mind of a wandering columnist wandered back to November 2008, to the night President Barack Obama gave his victory speech after vanquishing U.S. Sen. John McCain.
Those gathered to hear the man who made liberal legs tingle and caused acolytes to swoon clapped and cheered and, yes, some wept. Tears of joy, apparently. I wanted to weep too. But not for joy. Not over an electoral defeat. I felt like weeping for America.
Never had I seen such unabashed adoration, such extreme adulation of an elected official. John F. Kennedy inspired another generation, but I was too young to get the full vibe of what mythologizers called “Camelot.” Ronald Reagan had his rabid devotees who liked what he had to say about the people, not government, making America great. But nobody fainted when he spoke.
I wanted to weep over Grant Park because the majority of Americans had just chosen a neophyte with few legislative accomplishments. The majority picked a first-term senator who had no foreign policy experience, no executive experience and who had never held a job in the real economy.
But he had the “it” factor. He was of mixed race, which made his election historic, and the majority wanted to be part of history. He was hip. He was cool. He “cared about people” and “identified” with the masses. His campaign, through mastery of mass media, created an aura that, to me and millions more, was creepily messianic.
Journalists said Obama was “like a god.”According to the Kennedys, he would revive Camelot. A news magazine dressed him like Franklin D. Roosevelt in a cartoon cover and pundits predicted a New New Deal. Then there were the stylized images that looked like Che Guevara, the communist revolutionary.
I wanted to weep because history proves cults of personality never end well. Never. By definition a cult of personality “arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda or other methods to create an idealized, heroic and, at times, god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” This, to me, defined the Obama phenomena.
A firsthand observer of another cult of personality said such a cult seeks to “transform (the leader) into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics, akin to those of a god. Such a man supposedly knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything, is infallible in his behavior.”
This observer said the leader “acted not through persuasion, explanation and patient cooperation with people, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion.”
So said Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in his 1956 “Secret Speech” repudiating the cult of personality surrounding Josef Stalin.
This is not to suggest that Obama is evil like Stalin. Nor is he despotic like Hitler or Mao or Castro or Chavez or Mugabe. But his cult of personality is incredibly dangerous. He is not Superman. He doesn’t know everything. He is not infallible. Because of the adulation, though, too many have looked the other way too long. Because of the adoration, too many have explained away too much.
Obama doesn’t lead — he demands, defies and decries. Under Obama, the United States has executed American citizens by drone. The Obama IRS targeted his political enemies. The Obama Justice Department seized records of journalists. The Obama Justice Department and the FBI seized phone records of millions of Americans. Officials in the Obama administration maintain secret email accounts to avoid public and press scrutiny.
This is not America.
But this is what happens when a cult of personality encapsulates a leader. This is how Stalin remained popular even as he carried out his pogroms. This is how Obama, for now, maintains his favorable ratings as scandal after scandal engulfs his administration.
This is a long way from the hope for change in Grant Park in 2008. But this, unfortunately, was entirely predictable, and it still makes me want to cry.