There was an intense discussion at the Huffington Post and DailyKos about my post on Illinois Sen. Barack Obama - sorry, I mean, the Lord of all living beings. The threads of attack are pretty predictable, falling into two camps: 1) Barack Obama was a great state legislator in Illinois even if he hasn't done much OR EVEN TRIED TO DO MUCH in the Senate, and therefore he is the second coming of the Almighty or 2) Barack Obama is just really incredibly awesome for no actual substantive reason, and therefore he is the second coming of the Almighty.
My favorite is this excerpt, on Politicalwire:
"The difference between Obama and other possible 2008 contenders is stark, and not limited to Iraq policy positions. He continues to speak on a more grand scale...Obama's grandiose vision of America [means] to many, he is not an empty-suited young politician, as his challengers will say. He is a figure that directs the soul of the nation."
I'm not sure how to really argue with any of these absurd cliches because they are so fact-free, so without any regard for any actual substance, that it approaches a religious fervor. He is a "grand" deity with a "grandiose vision" who "directs the soul of a nation." He is Abe Lincoln and George Washington combined. He is all the Founding Fathers, the Greek philosophers, Mother Theresa, the Pope and every biblical prophet rolled into one man who can personally connect with every living organism in the universe at the very same moment. His mere touch can heal the sick and bring food to the hungry. As one commenter said, if you apply Obama topically, he cures cancer. He can walk on water and split oceans to lead the people to their freedom...I mean, really - does it ever end?
None of this is Obama's fault, and as I've written repeatedly, I strongly believe he has incredible potential to be one of American history's great leaders, and in fact a great presidential candidate right now - but only if he starts aspiring to actually lead, starts using his bully pulpit to promote a real, substantive cause (and by the way, as I have written before, that goes for ALL of the potential Democratic candidates). In fact, the Obama obsession as a political phenomenon really is less interesting in what it says about him than what it says about us, the progressive movement. People just want to say "shut up, Obama for President" or claim like conspiracy theory freaks that I am on the payroll of another presidential candidate (I am not), or claim that we simply cannot talk about the presidential contest and must fall in line immediately without any discussion. What it all signals is that parts of the progressive movement are so singularly focused on personality that they don't want to even think about the tough questions that ask whether we actually are an issue-based "movement" at all.
Because think about it - it is quite a spectacle to see how many "progressives" really cannot name one real, compelling, substantive, "progressive" reason that Obama - and not any of the other Democratic candidates - should be President other than some nebulous claim that he has the [INSERT VAGUE ISSUE-FREE SKILL] to win the presidency. It's shocking that segments of a movement that prides itself on having an actual agenda would support someone for president simply because they believe (of course, without any actual evidence) that he has the abilities to run a good race for president.
But then, you can't really argue about any of this on the actual facts without being attacked as an unholy Marxist. Apparently, you must believe that Barack Obama is the Almighty himself, or you are a blasphemer who dare taketh the Lord's name in vain.
What does that say about us? Obviously, it is a reflection of the general celebrity-obsessed culture we live in. But it is deeper. As I wrote in another post, on the conservative side, you are embraced because of the positions you stake out and because of what you've done to advance those positions, whether legislatively or rhetorically. On the progressive side, you are embraced because of charisma and charm, almost regardless or even in spite of your actual positions or record pushing those positions. The screams of passionate support for these progressive "charisma" candidates are "he can win!" or, as one commenter said, a deliberately vague, Napoleon Dynamite-esque chant of "vote for [INSERT CANDIDATE] and your wildest dreams will come true." Meanwhile, the similar cries on the right for their ideological candidate is "he will make our agenda a reality!" Not surprisingly, the conservative movement has solidified its agenda into law for the long-haul, while the progressive movement keeps waiting until that mythical "next election" for the supposed messiah-like savior that never comes.
This is, of course, a generalization. There are exceptions. But as the 2008 presidential primaries begin, these differences will become even more pronounced - and we will know the true soul of the progressive movement when we see whether it can overcome debilitating Partisan War Syndrome or not. Barack Obama has every right to run for President, just like anyone else. But if the progressive movement does not start seeing these candidacies - whether Obama's or any of the ones - as vehicles for OUR agenda, we may see a change in leadership, but not necessarily in policy.
UPDATE: If you want to see what I mean by Obama being a leader, see here. If we start to see more of this consistently from the Illinois Senator, then, as I've said, we will have a real leader on our hands who doesn't hoard his political capital, but instead spends it on a cause. My fingers are crossed that this is the Obama of the future.
HISTORICAL NOTE: Some keep invoking John F. Kennedy as the reason why Obama should be elected President. Specifically, people say that Kennedy had no political experience at all. Last I checked, JFK was not only a war hero, but was also in Congress for 14 years before he was elected President, serving both in the House and the Senate. So I'd suggest people find a different talking point.
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