The Koolaid Kult Exposed

peale-portrait-george-washington_smallThis week’s The Economist came with the usual stuff. I almost left it on the pile of things to read later. Last night, in a fit of insomnia, I turned to Lexington’s weekly take on U.S. politics. The title surprised and beckoned. “The Obama Cult” is hopefully one of the first serious pieces in the Main Stream Media to take a look at the Elmer Gantry style political experience that was 2008.

Mr Obama has inspired more passionate devotion than any modern American politician. People scream and faint at his rallies. Some wear T-shirts proclaiming him “The One” and noting that “Jesus was a community organiser”. An editor at Newsweek described him as “above the country, above the world; he’s sort of God.” He sets foreign hearts fluttering, too. A Pew poll published this week finds that 93% of Germans expect him to do the right thing in world affairs. Only 14% thought that about Mr Bush.

Perhaps Mr Obama inwardly cringes at the personality cult that surrounds him. But he has hardly discouraged it. As a campaigner, he promised to “change the world”, to “transform this country” and even (in front of a church full of evangelicals) to “create a Kingdom right here on earth”. As president, he keeps adding details to this ambitious wish-list. He vows to create millions of jobs, to cure cancer and to seek a world without nuclear weapons. On July 20th he promised something big (a complete overhaul of the health-care system), something improbable (to make America’s college-graduation rate the highest in the world by 2020) and something no politician could plausibly accomplish (to make maths and science “cool again”).

So, what started this Brit to dissect what our country did to itself with the cult of personality during an especially challenging time in our history? You can take a look at Lexington’s blog and see that he was inspired by what he calls a prescient book by Gene Healy entitled “The Cult of the Presidency, Updated: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power.” This book was published by the Cato Institute and was written during the Bush years. Lexington’s blog summary makes me want to pick the book up and dive in despite Mr. Healy’s well known credentials as a libertarian scholar/philosopher. (Okay, so did I warn you enough that the original source is not a certified, PC, liberal meme?)

Gene Healy argues that because voters expect the president to do everything, candidates promise far more than they can possibly deliver.

When they inevitably fail to keep their promises, voters swiftly become disillusioned. Yet they never lose their romantic idea that the president should drive the economy, vanquish enemies, lead the free world, comfort tornado victims, heal the national soul and protect borrowers from hidden credit-card fees.

No president in the modern era has raised expectations like Barack Obama, so he is unusually likely to disappoint. The polls already show signs of disillusion, especially among independent voters.

I don’t buy the whole of Mr Healy’s argument, but he makes some interesting points. To win a presidential election in America, you have to say things you know to be untrue. If you make it too obvious, like John “I’ll make every school an outstanding school” Edwards, you will stumble. But the system rewards those who can peddle plausible snake oil, and excludes anyone who is scrupulous about telling the truth.

The book includes countless vignettes illustrating the oddness of those who are prepared to do what it takes to become president. One of the more surprising concerns Lyndon Johnson. When asked by a reporter in the Oval Office why America was in Vietnam, he unzipped his fly, waved the presidential member at his questioner and replied: “This is why!”

Okay, the LBJ ‘vignette’ got me grinning before coffee, but still, the piece in The Economist wove around my brain with oc-08the alpha waves last night. If you are a student of U.S. history, which I have always been, you know that George Washington refused a form of imperial presidency. There are many stories about how the original founding fathers set up protocol to avoid making the office of the president anything resembling a monarch or ordained ruler. The Constitution sets up a fairly succinct list of duties. The president must enforce the law, defend the country when attacked and uphold the constitution. There is nothing in there about “creating a kingdom right here on earth” let alone the promise to “change the world”. Both of these things were, in fact, Obama campaign promises and 53% of the U.S voting public went right down that garden path. So, what about an imperial presidency? What about those horrible visions of a strong executive branch we endured with 8 years of vpResident Evil and his scheme to undermine the constitution? Are we on the mend from those attempts? I return to the Lexington piece.

Mr Obama promised to roll back Mr Bush’s imperial presidency. But has he? Having slammed his predecessor for issuing “signing statements” dismissing parts of laws he had just signed, he is now doing the same thing. He vowed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, but this week put off for another six months any decision as to what to do with the inmates. Meanwhile, he has embraced Mrs Clinton’s curious notion that the president should be “commander-in-chief of our economy”, by propping up banks, firing executives, backing car warranties and so forth. Mr Healy reckons that Mr Obama is “as dedicated to enhancing federal power as any president in 50 years.”

Lexington continues to say (and I agree) that POTUS is not the “socialist of Republican demonology”. He does question his overreach, however. This brings me to the bottom line which is the really good thing to chomp on a while.

All presidential candidates promise more than they can possibly deliver. This sets them up for failure. But because the Obama cult has stoked expectations among its devotees to such unprecedented heights, he is especially likely to disappoint. Mr Healy predicts that he will end up as a failed president, and “possibly the least popular of the modern era”. It is up to Mr Obama to prove him wrong.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is one of the few critical views that I’ve seen of Obama and his agenda coming out of what is a somewhat conservative, but fairly mainstream news source. Again, I’m not counting all those Republican partisan diatribes on Obama, the socialist, and other such nonsense. Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan are infotainment from the (update) neo[insert-the-frame-here]con agenda and to pass them off as journalists is delusional at best.

We now have a projection of some one who was supposedly the gold standard of popularity (especially in Europe) now being projected by at least one historian (with a libertarian bent) to be “possibly the least popular of the modern era.” That’s one gigantic leap for mankind given the enormous pass we had from the press on anything resembling a critical eye for over a year. Okay, there was that Helen Thomas criticism that only the conservatives picked up a few months ago.

In one more interesting side note to the background for Lexington’s piece, I add this link to the just released Pew Global Attitudes Poll. Lexington cited it in his blog as another reason to look at the Obama phenomenon. Evidently, just by electing this POTUS, the country has picked up massive cred in many places, notably Europe. There’s a bunch of underlying evidence that the Muslim World, however, is not so impressed. Anyway, like Lexington himself says,a review of the poll results is worth your time. Here, in the United States, the polls are getting more earthbound.

In six months, his approval rating has fallen from 63% to 56% while his disapproval rating has nearly doubled, from 20% to 39%. Independent voters are having second thoughts. And his policies are less popular than he is. Support for his health-care reforms has slipped from 57% to 49% since April.

Is the koolaid finally wearing off? Will we be getting something other than Obama Derangement Syndrome from the Right and slavish devotion from the Left? Is the leg tingly press finally going to emphasize not what this POTUS promised during the election, but what he’s done since elected? Will they continue to enable the ongoing imperialization of the U.S. Presidency? Didn’t we get enough of that during the Dubya years?

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