It Takes a Nation of Whiners to Hold Us Back


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.