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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pundits Calling Obama a "Cult" Personality

Paul Krugman, in a New York Times Op-Ed, says "the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality." Yesterday, Slate, pokes a little fun at the hero worshiping that Obama supporters seem to revel in.
Technically only three of the ten listed definitions for the word "cult" from could realistically be applied to Barack Obama and his followers and none of them appears to be what the latest pundits are referring to as they categorize Obama and his followers this way.

The three definitions that can be applied are innocent in their nature and have nothing to do with the implication clear in Krugman's piece for the New York Times, called "Hate Springs Internal".

The three that apply are:

2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers.

3. the object of such devotion.

4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.

He is popular with certain groups of people, and like any other candidate he has his share of supporters that any rational person would be leery of but does that give him the "cult status" in the derogatory manner that Krugman and others seem to imply?

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Mr. William Julius Wilson of Cambridge, Mass wrote "Barack Obama is changing the way we think about race in America. His inclusive message is so refreshing that, in addition to strong backing from blacks, he is drawing unprecedented nationwide support from white voters. It is so upsetting that this remarkable and historic feat is belittled as a “cult of personality.”"

Slate does bring a few telling examples to the forefront yesterday, of those that can, indeed, be considered "cultlike" followers.

So far, no one seems to much care. There have been a few pieces from columnists questioning the messianic impulse with Obama, and a mocking Web site, but that's it for backlash. OK, so I'll say it: Some of Obama's supporters have gone around the bend. There was the woman in New Hampshire who compared him with Christ. There was Maria Shriver's comparison of the candidate with the state of California, with the rhetorical fervor usually seen only after a preacher shouts, "You are healed!"

Slate and the New York Times are not the only ones speaking about Obama in terms of "cult".

With Obama's recent blowouts in the primaries and caucuses, is this just Clinton supporters way to cast him in a bad light by associating his name with the term "cult" as evidenced by ABC News Senior National Correspondent Jake Tapper, who writes at the ABC blog, Political Punch "The Holy Season of Lent is upon us. Can Obama worshipers try to give up their Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities for a few weeks?"

That piece was called "And Obama Wept"

That article also points out a comment by Chris Matthews, who tells the New York Observer, “I’ve been following politics since I was about 5. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament."

The question still remains, just because a candidate or any person for that matter, has certain fans, followers or supporters that are "around the bend", as Slate calls it, can that be blamed on the popular person or should it simply be chalked up to a certain amount of "strangeness", for lack of a better word, in large group by a small portion of that groups members?

Is this more than just a few unhinged or is this something that is real?

Perhaps one of the most worrisome aspects of this is that some Obama supporters are noticing it and making statements saying that they are getting increasingly "weirded out" by some of Obama's other supporters.

Excuse me, but this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign. The language used here is the language of evangelical Christianity – the Obama volunteers speak of "coming to Obama" in the same way born-again Christians talk about "coming to Jesus."

But he's not Jesus! He's not going to magically enable us to transcend the bitter partisanship that is tearing this country apart. And even if he is elected, in no way will that show that somehow we have "gotten beyond" race.

That piece is actually called "Barack Obama Is Not Jesus".

No answers given here, but in this bloggers mind, I associate "cult leaders" with names like Jim Jones, David Koresh, or Charles Manson and I cannot seem to see Barack Obama in the same category or light as those men.

Then again, in my life time I have never seen a politician that carries the charisma and the following that has his supporters fainting at his very presence, either.

(Barack Obama tosses a water bottle after woman faints at Seattle campaign rally (Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Captain's Quarters discusses Obama's "mission" to fix American who knows.

[Update] 2/17/08- Amy Proctor has a very good piece addressing the Obama phenomenon, called ""Pastor Obama Excites the Unchurched Masses".

Go. Read.