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Stacy Parker Le Melle Headshot

The Latest Obama Distortion: Cult Figure

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In today's NYT, Paul Krugman writes about the "bitterness" of the Democratic nomination fight, writing that he feels that the most "venom" comes from the pro-Obama voices. He goes on to say that Obama supporters "want their hero or nobody" and that the "Obama campaign is seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality."

Our hero or nobody? A cult of personality? Let's take a moment to deconstruct.

Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly tried to diminish the differences between her and her opponents. This Obama supporter isn't buying it. When it comes to policy proposals, the differences may be small. However, many of us look at these two candidates and see two different people, two different histories, two different approaches to governance. Why do we sense this? Because yes, these two candidates have different personalities. Personality is not just about being the fun guy to have a beer with. It runs deeper. We are not wrong to assess one's personality when assessing a candidate, because one's personality says much about how he or she will do the job.

Obama has an open, humble, flexible sort of brilliance that portends that he will bring amazing knowledge to the Oval Office, but will always remain open to ideas that don't fit in the preconceived framework of what is right and wrong. He does not give the sense that he already knows all there is to know, like she often does. He appears to have a different character--a personality that many of us believe would make him better suited for the presidency. Yet we point this out, and suddenly our concerns are written off as hero worship, the stuff of cults.

Cults. Yes. "Cult of personality" is great phrasing for them, no? If a voter isn't really familiar with the idea, they hear that word "cult" and they're thinking David Koresh. They think: dark, secret, and manipulative. Maybe even sleeper--an above-board way to conjure up all these fears those Muslim-baiting emails did. "Cult of personality" asserts that no *rational* person could rationally choose between Obama and Clinton.

But that's the thing: many of us do. And we first did so when the easy thing would have been to ride the Clinton train. But we chose not to. Not because we think Obama's the messiah--quite the contrary. We think he's a voice of reason, in a time when the presumptive nominee, the one we were told was inevitable, exhibited Bush-lite tendencies, going along with the Iran warmongering, refusing to apologize for her Iraq vote. We watch as every day she changes, constantly micro-calibrating her appeal with only one goal in mind: to win. The changes don't feel like evolution because they feel disconnected from the authentic person inside. There is nothing wrong with fighting hard, or wanting to win. But when it's always tactics above principle, there's a problem.

As Maureen Dowd pointed out last week, I feel that the Clintons and many of their operatives and surrogates have learned the wrong lessons from the 80s and 90s. We can frame issues, and our opponents, without resorting to untruthful distortions. Obama's campaign is not a Jackson campaign. People who criticize Clinton are not automatically Clinton-haters. People who wildly support Obama have not necessarily succumbed to a cult of personality. Many of us support Obama because we trust that he can be competitive without relying on these kinds of distortions. Framing is about focusing the eye. It need not be a lie.

As critical as I've been sometimes of Maureen Dowd's coverage of our presidents and the candidates, I think that she reveals something that is an eternal truth: character matters. How people approach their work, and their life, says something about the outcomes we can expect. We have had a long time now to see Mrs. Clinton in action, and to make our judgments on who would better represent us here and abroad. Don't write off our desires as cultish. Just because Obama's success gives us joy, does not mean our support is not girded by reason.