Monday, August 17, 2009

Cult of Personality

I have to admit that Cult of Personality is one of my favorite songs. It has been ever since it first came out by the band Living Colour. I enjoyed it not only for the style of music but also for its political commentary - which makes sense when I tend to associate almost everything to politics somehow.

I was reminded of this recently as I was thinking about the Obama effect. More precisely, the effect that he has apparently had on a new generation of young voters and supporters. While Bill Clinton enjoyed a certain amount of popularity, particularly among women voters, his overall effect was comparatively small when compared to the first black president of the United States. In an era where people seem to be increasingly judged upon their appeal and popularity, President Obama enjoys a tremendous amount of support. His appearances both on the campaign trail during the election last year attained the status of rock concerts with women swooning as soon as he appeared onstage. Since his election, his popularity has seemingly not waned. While there are many people who do not agree with his policies, none can deny the effect his appearance has had on not just Americans but people all over the world. Whereas his predecessor had engendered a great deal of derision for his policies and sometimes questionable decisions, Obama has just the opposite effect.

His appeal is not hard to understand. He is well-spoken, intelligent, cultured (though that is a subjective term) and good-looking (well, at least that is what I've heard women say). And to become the first black president in a country that is deservedly lambasted for its past with blacks has given him a special position in history that cannot be denied. However, at times, it seems that his appeal has also granted him a sort of invulnerability to criticism that is somewhat disturbing. While Janeane Garofalo is a somewhat extreme example of his supporters, it is rather representative of the beliefs of those who will defend him from any criticism, whether deserved or not. Essentially, the assertion by his backers is that those who would criticize him is that they are all racist regardless of whatever the criticism may be. They assign motive to his critics - something that is simply not possible for it would require the ability to read minds.

And, to be fair, it should be pointed out that such tactics are not only on one side of the political spectrum, as commentary from the other side was equally brutal during the previous administration. But a crucial difference is how Obama is held in regard by his supporters versus the supporters of President Bush, or any others for that matter. There is an almost reverent belief among his followers that he will make everything better. Like the pied piper leading his charges through his musical pipe, President Obama's supporters want to believe and thus they do, without reservation or question. Any critical analysis or advice given is automatically discarded because it does not conform to the hope being offered by the pied piper.

History has shown that blind belief without rational analysis, especially when applied to a charismatic leader, can often have disastrous consequences. Indeed, it is replete with many examples, both elected and not. Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini are a few among many. And these examples are only within the last century!

I should caveat that this is not necessarily to infer that President Obama is the same as any of the aforementioned notorious rulers. It is meant merely to demonstrate how the power of wanting to believe in something can lead people to follow leaders whose leadership abilities is questionable at best, disastrous and deadly at worst.

It is not wrong to hope that a man can make a situation better. It is wrong to unquestioningly believe everything that a man may say. And for a great many people who were willing to not only question the abilities of his predecessor but to openly associate him with many of the aforementioned rulers, it seems particularly amazing that they are so blindly willing to follow the current leader without question or reservation.

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