Obama Personality Cult Redux
She begins by a look at the literature on actual cults and shows why the Obama campaign doesn’t qualify. While worthwhile from a technical standpoint, though, that’s not really what the debate is about. Perhaps “cult” is a poor word choice but people understand the shorthand: He’s running on personality rather than issues.
Her retort to that, though, is well taken:
As I pointed out my very first week on this blog, the GOP didn’t come to power by talking about plans and policies; they did it by using strongly emotional appeals that grabbed people by the gut and didn’t let them go. Theirs was never a movement based on reason. It was, from the very beginning, a movement of hearts and souls. And it was that deep, emotionally sustaining commitment that drew people in so deeply that they were willing to give 25 years of their lives to bringing about the New World Order their leaders promised them. We may hate what they’ve accomplished — but we’re never going to be able to do better until we can inspire that same kind of passion for change.
And Obama’s doing just that. He’s tapped into a deeply pressurized seam of repressed fury within the American electorate, and he’s giving it voice, a focus, and an outlet. Are the results scary? You bet: these people want change on a scale that much of the status quo should find terrifying. Are they unreasoning? The followers may be — but as long as their leader keeps a cool head, that’s not as much of a problem right now as we might think; and the heat will dissipate naturally in time. Is this kind of devotion even appropriate? You bet. You don’t get the kind of deep-level change we need without first exposing and channeling people’s deep discontent. Obama’s change talk may be too vague for most people’s tastes (including mine); but the fact is that if we’re serious about enacting a progressive agenda, rousing people’s deepest dreams and desires and mobilizing that energy is exactly how it’s going to happen. And Obama’s the first candidate we’ve had in a generation who really, truly gets this.
At some level, I disagree with the oversimplification of the appeal of the campaigns waged by Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich to bring Republicans to the presidency and control of the Congress. There were indeed rational policy platforms front and center in those campaigns.
Fundamentally, though, Robinson is right. Movements are based largely on appeal to people at the instinctual, visceral level rather than on the plane of platform.
Gingrich was a policy wonk’s policy wonk. But he was also a master of focus group-tested language. Take a look at the Republican Contract with America. Its legislative agenda combined wonkery with gut level rhetoric masterfully:
1. THE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out- of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.
2. THE TAKING BACK OUR STREETS ACT: An anti-crime package including stronger truth-in- sentencing, “good faith” exclusionary rule exemptions, effective death penalty provisions, and cuts in social spending from this summer’s “crime” bill to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools.
3. THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.
4. THE FAMILY REINFORCEMENT ACT: Child support enforcement, tax incentives for adoption, strengthening rights of parents in their children’s education, stronger child pornography laws, and an elderly dependent care tax credit to reinforce the central role of families in American society.
5. THE AMERICAN DREAM RESTORATION ACT: A S500 per child tax credit, begin repeal of the marriage tax penalty, and creation of American Dream Savings Accounts to provide middle class tax relief.
6. THE NATIONAL SECURITY RESTORATION ACT: No U.S. troops under U.N. command and restoration of the essential parts of our national security funding to strengthen our national defense and maintain our credibility around the world.
7. THE SENIOR CITIZENS FAIRNESS ACT: Raise the Social Security earnings limit which currently forces seniors out of the work force, repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance to let Older Americans keep more of what they have earned over the years.
8. THE JOB CREATION AND WAGE ENHANCEMENT ACT: Small business incentives, capital gains cut and indexation, neutral cost recovery, risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis, strengthening the Regulatory Flexibility Act and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs and raise worker wages.
9. THE COMMON SENSE LEGAL REFORM ACT: “Loser pays” laws, reasonable limits on punitive damages and reform of product liability laws to stem the endless tide of litigation.
10. THE CITIZEN LEGISLATURE ACT: A first-ever vote on term limits to replace career politicians with citizen legislators.
One can argue, certainly, that this is very policy driven. Without question, clicking through and reading the legislation (available at the link) gives you detail and substance. But there were no hyperlinks in TV Guide.
But look at the names: Responsibility, American Dream, Fairness, Common Sense, Job Creation, Family, etc. Brilliant, emotive appeal. What decent person could be opposed to these things?
From my standpoint, Obama is doing the emotive part without as much substantive backing as Gingrich and Reagan. But maybe that’s just a function of selective memory.
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