Another Look At the “Obama Cult”

One of the annoyances of the Clinton campaign and and many supporters is that they often ignore the real differences between the candidates and create distractions over phony issues, such as the claim that Obama’s support is a cult. I’ve already discussed this in this post last week. Sara at Orcinus looks in detail at the characteristics of cults and finds that “Obamamania doesn’t come close to making the cut as a “”cult.'” Sara then looks at why Obama is successful:

What’s going on is that we’ve finally got a Democratic candidate who understands exactly how the Republicans did it. 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.

The energy of Obama’s rallies scares the hell out of reason-bound, well-educated liberals; but it’s nothing new to anyone who’s spent time in the overheated revival-meeting atmosphere that conservative politicians have used to rouse their voters for decades. Stirring up their base in exactly this same way is how they won. Our chronic inability to move people like that is why we’ve continued to lose.

Hillary is going the old route, with more plans and promises. And she’s losing. Obama is trying something that’s new to Democratic politics — but that also has a proven track record when it comes to raising and consolidating truly transformational movements. In fact: that kind of change simply does not happen unless you’ve got this kind of committed mass movement.

This misguided “cult” talk not only misunderstands how social change occurs; it’s also giving the GOP a weapon it will use to the hilt if Obama is the candidate in the general election. They’re going to demonize those energetic kids as the re-animated zombie ghosts of the dirty fucking hippies of the 60s. And, in a historic sense, they are. They’re our own children, emerging to finish the work that their parents got too tired and too disillusioned to finish. For us old Boomers, they’re our very last shot at the dream.

Obama does concentrate on more inspirational appeals in speaking out of the realization that this is what motivates most people to vote. This does not mean that Obama is any weaker than Clinton on the issues. Obama has discussed the issues in depth in interviews, and has detailed policy proposals posted on his campaign web site. There are numerous issues I’ve discussed, including here, where Obama has been on the right side and Clinton has been on the wrong side. Obama’s policy positions also come out much stronger. For example, The New Republic has reviewed Clinton’s plan on dealing with foreclosures and called it “dishonest, a fairy tale that won’t come true.” The Washington Post compared the economic stimulus plans of each candidate. Obama’s plan earned an A- while Clinton’s plan received a C-, barely beating John McCain’s D+. Obama also has the stronger plan on health care reform despite the attempts of the Clinton campaign to create distractions over mandates.

We support Obama because he is right on the issues, has better plans, and, as Sara discussed, better understands how to get elected than Clinton does.

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  1. 1
    Mark says:

    Compare the way in which Obama’s supporters act with the way in which Ron Paul’s more vocal supporters acted (and continue to act). There is no comparison- the Paul-ites really do fit the description of a cult. I haven’t seen the millenialism and robot-like recitation of campaign slogans that characterized the more vocal supporters of the Paul campaign. Nor have I seen the twisted rationalizations and defense of the indefensible that was so bothersome in that case.

    To be honest, a large segment of Hillary supporters have, I think, been far more cult-like with their avoidance of the issues by simply accusing Obama of using “Right Wing Frames” to dismiss his policy arguments rather than deal with them in a substantive fashion. Ditto with their attempts at rationalizing the teachers’ union lawsuit in Nevada and Hillary’s attempts to change the rules of the game with the Florida and Michigan delegations. Ditto again with their general refusal to acknowledge that Hillary would not be a candidate for President were it not for her marriage to a former President.

  2. 2
    janet says:

    My precinct at the WA feb. 9th caucus was interesting demographically. There were 58 of us. We divided into two parts–the Clinton table (20 folks) and the Obama table (38 folks). The Clinton table was almost entirely older white women wearing Valentine sweatshirts. I mean no disrespect because I am sort of of that age group. But they were really in to having in their lifetimes, a woman president and it seemed to me that was what it was all about for them.

    I was at the Obama table with my 22 year old son. I came out of the whole thing as an alternate Obama delegate. Our group had older ladies, older men, young men, 18-20 year olds and simply was a more diverse group. I was impressed with a couple of the young girls who had gone to an Obama rally. There was nothing cult like about them. They were able to articulate the issues better than anybody there. I was proud that my son chimed in. These are educated, bright kids who know what they are talking about and the older folks were listening to them. One of the older ladies even ripped off her Hillary sticker and joined us.

    There–my anecdotal story for the day.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Neither the Paul or Clinton supporters would be classified as cults by the criteria used in the linked post, but Paul certainly comes a lot closer.

    In the case of the Clinton supporters, it is largely two other factors as opposed to being a cult. First, as Janet says, many place having a woman as president as their top priority. Once they support Clinton based upon this they rationalize her unethical campaign practices and accept her talking points with regards to her policy proposals.

    The other factor is that Clinton supporters are largely less educated and more downscale voters. Clinton convinces them that she will help them out and they don’t have the education or knowledge to see how poor her policies really are.

  4. 4
    Steve Hayes says:

    A cult?

    No, the Ron Paul movement looks like a cult.

    But thanks anyway. You answered a concern that I blogged about, that an Obama presidency would turn out to be more style than substance. And there is a sense in which electioneering has to be that.

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