Politics

The Obama Cult? Hardly.

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Barack Obama is endlessly fascinating – not just because of who he is but because of the ardent support he inspires. Some people consider his appeal analogous to a cult movement. Others say that’s hogwash, it’s just typical excitement.

When it comes to Obama, some people get it and others don’t. I would consider myself a third class: someone who gets it but isn’t buying it.

There is, I think, a great thirst in America for a leader to pull us out of the animosity and dysfunction of the recent past. This isn’t a liberal or conservative thing. Ron Paul inspired his own brand of fervent support mainly because he was so clearly different from the status quo. It is telling that in my neighborhood I have seen multiple houses switch their Ron Paul signs for Obama signs. Either they actually switched from wanting almost no federal government to wanting lots and lots of federal government, or they’re just desperate to shake up the nation, no matter the specific policies of who does the shaking.

The change Obama supporters seek is not merely a change of policy, it’s far more radical. They want a change in the tenor of our nation, in our political personality, in the very fabric of our nation’s soul. The so-called empty rhetoric of Obama is only empty if you don’t believe his promises are possible. But if you do think America can and should reform its divisive ways (at home and abroad), Obama seems the perfect leader, the right man at the right time.

Is it cultish to buy into Obama’s promises of unity? No. It may be profoundly foolish but hopeful naiveté is a far less dangerous thing than unquestioning devotion. If Obama stood up tomorrow and asked his supporters to take up arms against Clinton’s supporters, his political career would end immediately. He inspires a hopeful ardor not a blind obedience. Those are two hugely different things.

Even though I admit to being made a little uncomfortable with some of the overexcited displays of affection for Obama, I’m actually pleased to see that we as a nation have not become so cynical as to reflexively reject someone like him. Sometimes I feel like a cynic myself for not supporting him. But my aversion to Obama is not his rock star image, it’s his policy positions. That probably makes me a square but I tend to think calls for unity are only valid if he who makes the call has proven himself capable of actually creating unity.

I think Obama is far too liberal to ever get those on the right to stop their attacks and create a more unified nation. To me, he has a lot of the right words but too few of the right positions. I wish his platform were more innovative and less cut-and-paste liberal. I wish his sincere desire to unite us was coupled with an equally powerful platform designed to achieve just that.

Still, the fact that Obama is currently more words than action doesn’t make his candidacy anything close to a cult movement. Those who argue it is are guilty of unnecessary hyperbole.