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.