Cut the Messiah Crap

During the campaign opponents of Barack Obama tried to dismiss the support for him as a cult following a Messiah figure. After Obama won the nomination and then the election I had hoped this nonsense had come to an end but Dana Milbank revives it in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

Obama received millions of votes. Undoubtedly different people had different reasons for voting for him and saw him differently. To dismiss his support as a cult was absurd back then, and it is equally ridiculous to repeat the claims that his supporters saw him as some sort of Messiah.

During the primary campaign it became clear that Barack Obama was the only candidate I found acceptable who I thought had a reasonable chance to both beat Hillary Clinton and beat whoever would win the Republican nomination. Milbank believes Obama supporters did not see him as another politician. I never had any illusion that someone who could get to that stage was not a politician. The point is not that he was not a politician but that his type of politics was preferable to that practiced by both Hillary Clinton and the current Republican Party.

Milbank misunderstands the response to Obama’s decision to remain in Afghanistan. Yes, of the millions who voted for him I am sure that some were surprised and felt betrayed. Many more of us were fully aware that the current plan is totally consistent with the plans Obama discussed as a candidate. The fact that Obama had said he planned to remain in Afghanistan as a candidate does not mean we cannot criticize the policy. Campaigning on a policy does not give a candidate some sort of immunity to being criticized for the policy–even by those who supported the candidate. We knew that he was not a Messiah who would always be right.

I bet that many Obama supporters predicted, as I had, that Obama would do many things we would disagree with. Back in December 2007 I wrote my annual list of Festivus grievances, that year airing my grievances with the major presidential candidates. On Obama I wrote:

My suspicion is that in a couple of years I will be writing a number of blog posts disagreeing with some of your actions as president, but things will be far better than if any of your major opponents were to win.

Milbank concluded with reaction to Obama’s decision on Afghanistan, describing some of the opposition and writing:

His Afghanistan policy, likewise, is above all a pragmatic, nonideological strategy. He stayed true to his campaign promise to take the fight to the Taliban, but he also tried to build a consensus. You’d think his supporters might applaud this sort of thoughtful, methodical leadership as a repudiation of the Bush style of government by political theory.

Yes, it is true as Milbank also wrote, that some on the left have gone overboard in attacking Obama over this and other areas where they disagreed with him. Some have even unfairly compared Obama to George Bush. Just earlier today I wrote that “I Might Not Agree With Obama On Afghanistan But At Least He Seriously Considered The Issues.” The post praises Obama for at least seriously considering the ramifications of his policy and attempting to avoid past mistakes, along with contrasting Obama’s decision making style to that of George Bush.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I listened to a large portion of the audio book of David Plouffe’s book on the Obama campaign, The Audacity to Win, while driving or while following around family members as they went shopping. Obviously David Plouffe’s portrayal of Obama must be taken with a grain of salt but while listening I was thinking about why the Messiah line never really hurt Obama. Even while Plouffe was obviously building up Obama, it wasn’t as any sort of Messiah but as an intelligent man (repeat: man) who seriously considered the issues and who did represent a change from the politics of the Clintons and the Republicans (which over time had become virtually identical).

Obama will continue to make mistakes, or at least make decisions I do not agree with. What is important is that we have a president who seriously looks at the facts and asks questions before making deciding. That is not being a Messiah, but it is being vastly superior to his predecessor. I might disagree with some of Obama’s decisions, and certainly never saw him as any type of Messiah, but I still believe, as I did back in 2007, that we are better off than we would be if any of the other candidates had won.

Update: Public Policy Polling puts liberal dissatisfaction with Obama in perspective. While many do disagree with him on specific issues such as Afghanistan, overall only three percent of liberal Democrats disapprove of him.


  1. 1
    left coast rebel says:

    As you will note, I am linked beside you at Memeorandum. As you will not as well, I came to a completely different conclusion on this article and topic than you. Which is fine, of course, just read it.

  2. 2
    beep52 says:

    Milbank may think it’s cool to jump on the “messiah” train, but he’s  reinforcing the right-wing meme that no elected Democrat can be considered legitimate and all things liberal are by definition invalid. Unless one truly believes in one-party rule, it’s irresponsible and the sign of a lazy mind.
    As for the messiah brand, I think Reagan has that locked up. I mean, the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project? C’mon.

  3. 3
    Mike NJ says:

    Final straw for me. Obama Justice Dept. defending John Yoo. Did he mention that in his campaign? Sorry. A lot of liberals and progressives continue to be disappointed in the aforementioned “Messiah” and it is going to show up mightily in low voter turnout.

  4. 4
    henry porter says:

    “praises Obama for at least seriously considering the ramifications of his policy and attempting to avoid past mistakes, along with contrasting Obama’s decision making style to that of George Bush.”
    And yet, the result of all that consideration and deliberation is the same policies that Bush promulgated.  So what do WE gain?  Absolutely nothing.
    If Bush were in office, we’d be talking about the “surge” in Afghanistan, just as we are with Obama in office.  What does it matter if the president engages in deliberation and study, when the end result is a continuation of ruinous Bush policies?

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:


    A report from the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility evaluating Yoo’s performance is also expected to condemn him of ethical violations. There is certainly ground for criticizing Obama for not going further with regards to actual prosecution of former Bush administration officials but actually this course is quite consistent with how he campaigned.

    If you expected different from the Obama administration, you weren’t paying attention to his previous statements.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    That is awfully simplistic to say that a course of action different from what you wanted is a “continuation of ruinous Bush policies.” The chances that anyone elected would be leaving Afghanistan immediately was about zero. His two major rivals in 2008, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, are both far more hawkish and I doubt either (or George Bush) would be including an exit strategy in their plans. While the policy is questionable, remaining to try to clean up some of the mess Bush left is hardly the same as continuing the policies of someone such as Bush who both botched Afghanistan so badly and lied us into a war in Iraq.

    Besides, disagreement with his policy here is a different issue than discussed here–the view of Obama as a Messiah. Anyone paying attention to his statements when he campaigned would realize that he would not leave Afghanistan immediately (and would not be likely to prosecute Bush administration officials).

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