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Obama = Charismatic = Hitler = Armageddon

Arthur Silber is, as am I, fascinated by the cult of personality surrounding Barack Obama.  He notes some anecdotal creepy gushing on a local radio show and then

Reactions of this kind to Obama are fairly common. No, they are not this extreme much of the time, but such statements are far from unusual. And many of Obama’s less obviously deluded supporters fall along the same continuum. Take a look at the woozily sentimental, intellectually reprehensible remarks collected at the beginning of “Obama’s Whitewash,” the third excerpt here, and the comments here. Moreover, this kind of reaction — an emotion-driven response utterly devoid of coherent ideational content, a response that leads far too many people to be enthusiastically willing to believe virtually anything that Obama might proclaim and to follow him anywhere — is one that Obama and his campaign explicitly seek to elicit.

People had better wake the hell up, and they had better study some history very damned fast. I have sometimes remarked, and I repeat the warning here, that the twentieth century was a nonstop train of horrors — yet in one sense, the most terrible and horrifying aspect of the twentieth century is that we learned absolutely nothing from it.

Among the horrors of the twentieth century were several notable leaders who initiated events that led to slaughter and destruction on an ungraspably monumental scale. These charismatic leaders evoked a response from their followers almost identical to that called forth by Obama. These leaders specialized in “personal stories of political conversion.” Doesn’t anyone see the connection? Doesn’t anyone remember any of this?

This, incidentally, from a man who can scarcely imagine voting for a Republican.

James Benjamin goes further:

Although I seriously doubt that Obama is the next Hitler, his followers are every bit as authoritarian as those who followed Bush (or Schwarzenegger, as I seem to recall) just a few years ago, and that’s something a despot, a strongman would want.

[...]

I would not be at all surprised if either Obama himself were revealed to be some sort of wild card authoritarian in his own right, and/or numerous of his followers were wild card authoritarians – i.e., those who can pose as “leftists” but once in a position of power begin to crack down on dissent much like the right-wingers we all know and loathe. Obama’s own embrace of warmongers, neoliberals, and of course of the awful FISA bill that is likely destined to pass does not bode well for those who wish to continue arguing that he is “progressive” (whatever that is supposed to mean any more). The behavior by groups of Obama fanatics on some of the community blogs (lots of bully tactics as I recall) and the apparent efforts by Obama partisans to shut down individually run anti-Obama blogs is a relatively mild expression of that authoritarianism; we should keep in mind that we’re still early in the game.

Jesse Taylor believes this line of reasoning has guano-level sanity and snarks, “While he lacks any political element of fascism in his platform, he makes up for it in some people liking him a lot, which is like 60% of fascism anyway.”

Obama is quite possibly the most charismatic politician of my lifetime.  Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both had superb oratorical skills and charismatic personalities but neither made crowds swoon to the extent Obama does.  John Kennedy was murdered before I was born and it’s hard for me to assess him apart from the strange fascination and conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination plot.  Perhaps Dwight Eisenhower and, certainly, Franklin Roosevelt had it.

Like Silber, it worries me when people get so emotionally involved in their leaders.  I’m not concerned that Obama is going to annex Canada and start the ethnic cleansing of white working class Appalachians and people named Larry;  Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were evil men, not good ones who went mad with too much power.

Then again, I don’t think that George Bush or Arnold Schwarzenegger (or even Rudy Giuliani) are “authoritarians,” “despots,” or “strongmen,” either.  Executives naturally believe in the rightness of their cause and seek to push the envelope of their power when they’re being thwarted by inconvenient institutions.  Some do so more than others.

The problem with cults of personality in the American experience is it that it furthers our tendency to trust government to take care of us.  FDR was well meaning in constructing the New Deal and the vast machinery of government bureaucracy needed to support it to combat the unique challenges of the Great Depression; unfortunately, the solution long outlasted the crisis.  Similarly, I believe torture, rendition, habeus corpus suspension, the Department of Homeland Security, and the other over-reactions to the 9/11 attacks were well intentioned measures to make us safer.

Both Obama and his opponent, John McCain, have a streak of crusading righteousness in them that leads to a dismissiveness to criticism.  Some of our best and some of our worst presidents have had it.   Fortunately, we have a set of institutions — separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism — and a political culture that make realizing authoritarian ideals difficult.

via memeorandum

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both had superb oratorical skills and charismatic personalities but neither made crowds swoon to the extent Obama does.

    I’ve never attended the speeches of either in person but my wife (no Clinton fan) attended one of Bill Clinton’s speeches in person and came back reporting that he was absolutely rivetingly charismatic.

    As charismatic as Obama? I have no idea. What is the unit of measure for charisma? Is there some sort of logarithmic scale for it?

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    BTW, my dad attended some of Hitler’s speeches in person in 1938 and said that he was absolutely riveting, too.

    Just an anecdote. I’m not trying to draw an analogies of any kind.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    What is the unit of measure for charisma? Is there some sort of logarithmic scale for it?

    I think this is a classic Potter Stewart situation. I don’t know that anyone can define, let alone measure, charisma.

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  4. od says:

    This is bizarre. Obama is charismatic, much like JFK, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton were – which is just another way of saying, as was noted, that a lot of people like him. And like JFK, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, a lot of people dislike him too. If elected, he might or might not become a decent president.

    But to talk of comparing him to people like Hitler is over the top silly – its the kind of thing that makes it impossible to take anything else the person writes seriously. Definitely Godwin’s Law material.

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  5. MM says:

    I think a lot of this is just the Internet allowing people to spiral into their own echo chambers. I’ve seen some silly Obamaphilia sure. However, Hillaryis44 and the Ron Paul forums (and Hugh Hewitt) are filled with the same type of relentless fanboy/fangirl behaviors. It’s no real surprise that a more charismatic (and more popular) candidate will thus have a larger group of purist followers.

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  6. Michael says:

    Charisma is most properly measured in Kennedy units, though almost always in fractions, as 1 Kennedy is the theoretical maximum. For convenience when talking about significantly small charisma levels, you can use Fence Post units.

    Just don’t ask me how many Fence Posts make up a Kennedy.

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  7. Hal says:

    Silber! Put down the Jack Daniels and step away from the keyboard.

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  8. c. wagener says:

    I might be going out on a limb here, but perhaps there are differences between America and Germany (particularly of the 1930’s).

    Obama can say whatever nonsense he wants regarding how Americans can’t continue to control their own thermostats or eat what that want to anymore, but neither friend nor foe of Obama will go along with it.

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  9. Hal says:

    Silber really is just being a loon. He’s making precisely the same logical error Jonah Goldberg did

    Al McCogan is dead, therefore all dead people are Al McCogan

    Universal affirmatives can only be partially converted.

    Further, Silber states, without a shred of evidence to prove his case

    an emotion-driven response utterly devoid of coherent ideational content, a response that leads far too many people to be enthusiastically willing to believe virtually anything that Obama might proclaim and to follow him anywhere

    If Silber has any evidence of this he should put up or STFU. It’s pretty serious stuff and as far as I can tell, it’s pure whacked out, crack smoking fantasy on his part.

    So, his entire thesis rests on an obvious flaw in logic combined with an unsupportable assertion.

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  10. just me says:

    I find the Obama followers on the creepy side-mostly because they react more worshipful than realistic.

    However I don’t think Obama is secretly planning to be the next Hitler or anything. I think he is charismatic though and I think he is arrogant-both entirely opinion. But I think Hitler comparisons are over the top.

    I think in the end Obama wins and turns into a mediocre president-he won’t be able to deliver on 90% of what he promises. He is promising pie in the sky-and nobody can deliver that not even Mr. Charisma.

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  11. Fence says:

    This is the biggest bunk I have seen on this site in awhile. 90% of the people who will end up voting for Obama (or McCain) in November would trade their vote for two tanks of gas. The fact that some supporters are over the top doesn’t mean most people are.

    And whoever wins, it certainly will be nice once again to have a President who can complete a sentence, find Tunisia on a map, and Google himself. Oh, well, two out of three would at least be a big improvement.

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  12. Floyd says:

    Comparing Obama to Hitler is ridiculous!!
    Deutschland überlebte Hitler!

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  13. Beldar says:

    Eisenhower was beloved and trusted, but it wasn’t based on personal charisma (except insofar as that quality, almost incidentally, had contributed to his leadership of the Allies in WW2, and most of those who dealt with him in that role describe him as “diplomatic” rather than “charismatic”). If you watch films of Eisenhower campaigning or speaking as president (e.g., in newsreels), you’re more likely to be reminded of Gerald Ford than of Ronald Reagan. To appreciate how much credibility he had, consider that the centerpiece of his 1952 campaign’s foreign policy was his unadorned statement that “I will go to Korea.” That was a statement with essentially no content beyond, “Trust me, I’ll fix it somehow.” But damned if it didn’t work for him, because Americans did trust him just that much. It wasn’t that it was an articulate, cleverly worded statement; rather, he’d already saved the world once before, so it wasn’t hard for anyone to believe he could do so again.

    As for Obama: I’m not worried at all that Obama will attempt to translate his personality cult into a dictatorship. It’s become abundantly clear to something north of 40% of Americans, at least since February, that the New Messiah has feet of clay.

    What concerns me much more is that Obama is one of his own true believers. I think he may indeed believe that he can work the same magic on Putin or Kim Jong Il or Ahmadinejad that he’s worked on Chris Matthews or Harry Reid. It’s that resemblance to Jack Kennedy — not the charisma per se, but the cocky, arrogant self-confidence that comes with it, when the truth is that he’s entirely inexperienced — that scares me the most about him. Otherwise, he’s no more dangerous than any other committed tax-and-spend liberal Democrat (which is plenty dangerous, but survivable).

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