Barack Obama’s Cult of Personality (Updated)
In a column entitled “Hate Springs Eternal,” Paul Krugman decries the rancor of the Democratic primary contest, which he likens to the style of Richard Nixon.
I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.
What’s particularly saddening is the way many Obama supporters seem happy with the application of “Clinton rules” — the term a number of observers use for the way pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent.
There’s no question that the Clintons sometimes start with the presumption of bad will and slick deception. Some might argue, though, that there’s reason for that.
In any event, though, this is rather rich:
[P]rogressives should realize that Nixonland is not the country we want to be. Racism, misogyny and character assassination are all ways of distracting voters from the issues, and people who care about the issues have a shared interest in making the politics of hatred unacceptable.
Er, hasn’t it been the Clinton campaign — especially Bill Clinton — who have used racism, misogyny and character assassination as ways of distracting voters from the issues?
Krugman is right, though, on one count: There is something of a cult of personality surrounding Obama. Despite a lack of a presidential résumé and a vision for leadership that’s remarkably short on specifics, he’s managed to convince a wide swath of people that he’s going to cure all the ills of our political system.
That’s especially ironic given that much of his support is among the well educated and affluent, who are supposed to be more rational. He’s managed to get most of the liberal intelligentsia on his side and even has people on the center-right swooning.
Update (Alex Knapp): To elucidate a little further on my comment below, I have to disagree with James on the “Obama lacks substance” issue, and I think that Matthew Yglesias has a salient post today on that very issue:
I’ve never heard an anecdote that involved someone talking to Obama about some policy question and walking away feeling he had a notably poor grasp of the issue. Those things do happen, though. I definitely had a conversation with a then-Senator about Iraq in 2006 in which I got the impression that though the Senator was working earnestly to inform himself about the issue his actual knowledge base was shockingly low considering how long the war had been going on. But with Obama? I haven’t heard about it.
Meanwhile, this story is one of several narratives that seems to me to overlook his time in the Illinois State Senate. Obama didn’t have some vast army of staffers to rely on in that role, and he wasn’t just serving time there, either. He successfully authored and passed legislation and impressed a lot of Illinois progressives. Nor is the University of Chicago Law School in the habit of handing out teaching positions to dullards. Which brings to mind the additional point that one way the allegedly vast Clinton edge in policy expertise sometimes gets argued for seems to be defining “policy” in such a way as to make things where Obama clearly has more knowledge, interest, and experience — constitutional law, criminal justice, non-proliferation policy — not count as “policy.” In the real world, appointing federal judges and prosecutors and weighing-in on federal litigation is an important presidential function.
Read the whole thing, because I think Yglesias makes a good case that part of the issue driving this perception of Obama is the media narrative of “Obama the cool kid versus Hillary the policy nerd”, which doesn’t have a lot of merit to it. I disagree with Obama on a number of policy issues, but I appreciate his intellect and more importantly, his instincts. Obviously, I am no mind reader, but everything I’ve seen and read about him seems to indicate a person who is open to working with folks who disagree with him and that he has a thoughtful, conservative temperment. I appreciate both of these things.