Religion

It Takes a Nation of Whiners to Hold Us Back

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Jonathan Chait's latest column defends Obama against the charge of messianism. Most of his points are valid. This one is a little too valid:

Now, it's certainly true that some enthusiastic Obama fans have displayed unusual zeal for their candidate. Yet it was only a few years ago–before President Bush's approval ratings tanked and conservatives decided that he wasn't actually a conservative at all–that the right had its own personality cult. There was DC 9/11, the Stalinist-style propaganda film reimagining Bush as an action hero boldly defying the terrorists on September 11. National Review, which has published innumerable articles in recent weeks decrying Obama's personality cult, was running advertisements for bronze busts depicting Bush in his "Mission Accomplished" fighter-pilot getup.

After September 11, James Merritt, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Bush that he had been chosen by God. Bush nodded. (Fred Barnes reported this encounter in The Weekly Standard, concluding, "The stage was set for Bush to be God's agent of wrath.") As Time reported, "Privately, Bush even talked of being chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." Claiming you've been chosen by God to lead the world in a titanic clash of good versus evil is pretty much the definition of messianic.

The short-lived cult of Bush, in fact, merely reprised the cult of Reagan that lives on to this day. Reagan kitsch has never gone out of style among Republicans. Numerous conservative pundits have suggested that any public policy question can be solved simply by asking "What would Reagan do?" The Heritage Foundation has a dedicated wwrd website. If, say, Brookings had inserted Obama's name into a phrase usually reserved for Jesus, you can only imagine what conservatives would make of it.

This is, actually, what bothers me most about Obama's cultish followers: They remind me of Bush and Reagan's cultish followers. It's silly for anyone who screamed like a Beatlemaniac watching the "Mission Accomplished" speech to greet Obamamania with a superior dance. But some of us would prefer a little more … what's the word? … change.

Elsewhere in Reason: Gene Healy on the real problem: the cult of the presidency.

NEXT: Why Is Emeril Lagasse on McCain's VP Short List? Wait, That Just Might Work...

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  1. KJL is embarrasing, but those last two links go to posts from two different people.

  2. This is, actually, what bothers me most about Obama’s cultish followers: They remind me of Bush and Reagan’s cultish followers.

    So, that’s why you can buy bronze busts of Barack Obama?

  3. Was there a Messianic cult built around Bush before he was elected, based entirely around his ability to See Into Our True Selves and Redeem Our Unworthy National Soul? Even at the National Review?

  4. Aaron: Not in my browser. If you’re landing someplace else on the page, scroll down to one of the “presidential stud” posts — they’re all by Lopez.

  5. Was there a Messianic cult built around Bush before he was elected, based entirely around his ability to See Into Our True Selves and Redeem Our Unworthy National Soul? Even at the National Review?

    Still waiting on that evidence of anything cult-like, other than the feelings of people who would vote for him.

  6. would NEVER vote for him.

  7. Numerous conservative pundits have suggested that any public policy question can be solved simply by asking “What would Reagan do?” The Heritage Foundation has a dedicated wwrd website. If, say, Brookings had inserted Obama’s name into a phrase usually reserved for Jesus, you can only imagine what conservatives would make of it.

    What? That phrase is not usually reserved for Jesus. It is usually reserved for Brian Boitano.

  8. Reagan was a great man and a great President. As such, the last thing he ever would have wanted to be was the head of a cult. The difference between him and Obama is that his cult arose after he left the Presidency, not before he was ever elected. People forget that he was an insurent candidate in 1976 and was not well liked by the old line wing of the party in 1980. Further, at the time a lot of movement conservatives criticized him for not using his political capital to really cut down the size of the government. All of the “what would Reagan do” and that kind of crap arose in the 1990s after Reagan was out of public life, which is not unusual. Liberals certainly did the same thing with Roosevelt and later Kennedy.

    Sometimes I really wonder how it is journalists can be so ignorent of history. There is the reality of the 1980s and there is this bullshit urban myth of the whole country falling in behind Ronnie. Journalists ought to know better but they never do.

  9. If only they weren’t ingorant about history, and knew that FDR’s wild popularity only started after he left office.

    Wait, what?

  10. Still waiting on that evidence of anything cult-like

    That’s a joke, right?

  11. “If only they weren’t ingorant about history, and knew that FDR’s wild popularity only started after he left office.”

    Joe stop being a jerk. Roosevelt’s cult like status certainly happened after he left office. Reagan was popular to but it wasn’t a cult. Neither was Roosevelt for that matter when he was in office. Afterwards, yes he was among people of that generation. All of the differences and reality of the time were forgotten and people revered him. Talk to anyone who grew up in the 30s and you will see what I mean. It very similar to what conservatives do with Reagan now.

    Why are such an insufferable prick Joe? Really? Sometimes I think you are serious person and not a troll and then you say shit like that. I really try to be fair to you but you are just a jerk about everything. You really are. I never said Roosevelt was unpopular or that he was a cult at the time. Only that he acquired a cult like following, much like Kennedy and Reagan after he left office. That is a pretty non-controversial statement. But, you have to use it to be a jackass. You really are a miserable human being sometimes. I don’t know why.

  12. Wah wah wah, joe’s not agreeing with my spin again!

    joe, why can’t you be nice and admit that all of my talking points are right?

  13. I think the level of enthusiasm coming from Obama’s supporters isn’t necessarily warranted by his deeds. That’s what I find a bit cult-like regarding O. The guy sold out said supporters with his FISA/telecom-amnesty capitulation and he’s accepted the neocon framing of the Russia/Georgia conflict. In other words, the man is a cynical politician and in turn deserving of a healthier dose of cynicism from a Party rank and file that we’ve been told really are against spying on their fellow citizens and really are against inadvisable foreign adventurism.

    Maybe the answer is that said Party really isn’t interested in curbing executive abuses of power or scaling back foreign adventures. Or perhaps not as interested in that as they are in increased government control of health care, education, the economy, etc, ad infinitum.

    In any case, it was a good speech. I suspect that joe won’t need any Viagra for the next month.

  14. Not hearing a whole lot about greek columns this morning.

    Odd, that, given that they’re such an obvious disaster.

  15. Joe there is no spin. It is a statement about history and the way Presidents, especially popular ones, are looked upon after they leave office. Did you not take your meds this morning? You really seem out of your tree.

  16. Not hearing a whole lot about Greek columns this morning.

    Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian? These are important questions.

    I feel that the “Who Mourns for Adonais?” angle has been insufficiently played, myself. Mostly because any Star Trek references amuse me.

  17. Uh, yeah, those outburts of yours, in response to a two-line quip, show I’M out of my tree.

  18. Epi,

    “It looked instead like the big front display window at Macy’s during Presidents Day Sales Weekend. You expected to see “Sofas 40% off!” in a running line on the bottom of the screen.”

    Peggy Noonan usually annoys me, but that is pretty funny.

  19. But some of us would prefer a little more … what’s the word? … change.

    He shoots, he scores. Isn’t Walker the one who stayed at home. Blogging in your PJs must keep the mind fresh because Jesse’s getting all the good shots.

    Oh except the part about the second link not pointing to a Lopez quote.

  20. The difference between him and Obama is that his cult arose after he left the Presidency, not before he was ever elected.

    Yeah, I’m sure “Morning in America” had absolutely nothing to do with Ronnie’s personality.

  21. “There was DC 9/11, the Stalinist-style propaganda film reimagining Bush as an action hero boldly defying the terrorists on September 11.”

    I believe this was a made for Showtime movie that that had a smaller following John From Cincinati. More people were probably watching whatever soft-core offering was on Skinamax that particular night. Pretty lame “evidence.”

  22. Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian?

    All good choices, but Caryatids are my preference.

  23. Um, shouldn’t Ron Paul and his followers be mentioned here as well?

  24. Good point, mantooth.

    During the primaries, there were more Ron Paul signs and bumper stickers around Eastern Massachusetts than those for Barack Obama, despite the fact that Paul got about 1/20th the number of votes.

    What was that thing where they put the word “LOVE” in “revolution?”

    Please, tell me more about the Barack Obama cult.

  25. I’d say that for Paul, his followers who weren’t libertarians already familiar with him probably were a cult of sorts. If they’d paid attention to the overall message, they probably would’ve like him much less.

    What’s interesting about the Paul phenomenon is that he really isn’t a charismatic figure, and he did make it pretty clear that he was working for limited government and freer markets. There’s something there that really excited people, despite the messenger, which shows that there may be more antipathy to government in America than many believe.

  26. Now I understand why libertarian candidates have always been so singularly unappealing if not downright repulsive: there will never be a libertarian personality cult.

  27. P.S. I don’t think Ron Paul’s followers were numerous enough to constitute a cult. Maybe a coven.

  28. The interesting metric about Paul is the number of people who gave him money. It’s quite high, particularly for a primary.

    I still think that, particularly for the GOP, that a good, more polished candidate with libertarian values would win easily. The problem is that the GOP is purging libertarians or fatally offending them these days.

  29. Joe, you are an incorrigible moronic piece of shit.

  30. No, not Doric! Because then we would cause a Doric Corner Conflict!

  31. Now I understand why libertarian candidates have always been so singularly unappealing if not downright repulsive: there will never be a libertarian personality cult.

    Hey Edward, why are you so bitter? Really, tell us. Did a libertarian rape your dog or something?

  32. Now, if he really wanted to go for the Messiah look, he could have used Solomonic Columns.

  33. Epi,

    Have you seen his dog? You’d have to pay someone to rape it.

  34. So, that’s why you can buy bronze busts of Barack Obama?

    ho ho ho yeah cause if you can’t buy a bust then it’s not crazy hero worship shittiness, no sireee. see, now, hiter, you could go down to the naziporium and buy all the busts you wanted, and t-shirts that read “it’s bund time, baby!” and those neat little blud und boden shot glasses. foam hands. pieces of the true putsch. that sort of thing.

    alternately, you could walk around my neighborhood and soak in the madness. every window and storefront with a different vector stylization of his giant frickin’ head, missing only laurels or perhaps a halo. random women in shops and cafes talking about having his babies. toddler jumpers with “i’m not too young to hope for change” written on them.

    but i mean, i’m hallucinating that stuff, even if i prefer dumbo ears to captain foreverwar by a serious margin. even if the relovetypo paulista stuff creeped me out.

    oh yeah, just hallucinating. it’s all a republican plot. (ps they made aids too. and sadness. the republicans invented sadness. i forgot about that because they invented mind control rays, too. in their lab. the republican r&d lab.)

  35. Have you seen his dog? You’d have to pay someone to rape it.

    LMNOP is a dog-raping machine, I hear.

  36. alternately, you could walk around my neighborhood and soak in the madness. every window and storefront with a different vector stylization of his giant frickin’ head

    I was vacationing in Little Compton, RI this weekend and I was astonished to see as many McCain signs as Obama. Very astonished.

  37. Epi —

    Trust me, it ain’t a representative sample. McCain will get obliterated here, as has every Republican except Reagan ’84 for the last thirty-five years.

  38. i must admit mccain has a decent logo.

    the wispy combover, however, kills whatever font-related cred he might pick up.

  39. i must admit mccain has a decent logo.

    An absolute must for the would-be president or 80’s metal band. Colossal egos help, too.

  40. Trust me, it ain’t a representative sample.

    Oh, I know. I was just surprised that driving down 77 I was seeing so much McCain.

  41. there were more Ron Paul signs and bumper stickers around Eastern Massachusetts than those for Barack Obama

    I know a few people who had RP stuff but voted for BO since they were registered democrats.

  42. This is, actually, what bothers me most about Obama’s cultish followers: They remind me of Bush and Reagan’s cultish followers.

    That doesn’t bother me about Obama’s followers so much as it bothers me about democracy – the ones with the cultish followers are generally the ones that win. And we wind up with cultish governing.

  43. “””Numerous conservative pundits have suggested that any public policy question can be solved simply by asking “What would Reagan do?”””

    But they make up an answer that would be different that what Reagan would do.

    How would Reagan handle Iran? I don’t think the current conservative answer would be “pay them off”. Yet that’s how Reagan handled the Iran hostage crisis.

  44. What, now popular = cult?

  45. is no great shakes from a libertarian view,

    Well, she is governor of a state where marijuana is more or less legal. I don’t know her specific stance on the issue though.

  46. All this talk about cult in the
    current political arena. A cult is
    a paticular system of religious
    worship. Fanatics won’t admit to being in a cult so they are defined
    by those with opposing views.

  47. [quote]What, now popular = cult?[/quote]

    loyalty beyond reason, i thinks.

    also: vector art.

  48. alternately, you could walk around my neighborhood and soak in the madness. every window and storefront with a different vector stylization of his giant frickin’ head

    I thought people lived in NY for the diversity. Nu?

  49. Reagan was a great man and a great President. [citation needed]

  50. oh yeah, just hallucinating. it’s all a republican plot.

    Or maybe it’s just you seeing what you already wanted to see.

    I don’t know you or your prejudices but there is something about Obama that makes everyone see what they want to see.

    Some of that results in fanboys who gush like schoolgirls when he gets on stage.

    Some of it comes from haters who have already decided he is a Islamofascicommunazi and therefore look at any sizeable gethering of Obama supporters and see some kind of mix between a Nuremberg rally, Comintern Conference, and Firday Sermon at the Mosque.

  51. Oh except the part about the second link not pointing to a Lopez quote.

    Duh! Sorry about that. I just fixed the link, and it should go to the right place now.

    In my (half-assed) defense, I was blogging from the floor of my father-in-law’s living room, halfway through a two-day drive…

  52. I’m a Democrat, and I’m fed up with the way the Obama Gestapo stomps on anyone who would feel anything but uncritical devotion to the One. It’s not Obama’s campaign perse, but online blogs like TalkingPointMemo. I’m a long-time reader of most of these online blogs but they have decidedly changed in tenor – more reasoned and nuanced views have been stamped out and the language is nasty and not much different from “for us or against us”. Just try to point out Biden’s cozy ties with tyhe banking mafia and you’d find yourself deluged with profanities, or strawmen like “well, do you think McCain is better?” The point that bringing Change to Washington has been redefined as bringing a Change of Party, not a Change of politics, has apparently escaped most. In that sense, the Democrats have again lost their direction. Change? Fat hope.

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