June 30, 2008

It's the 1930s, and You Are There

[Updated below. Pandagon readers, take note.]

[See also: "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been...a Racist?"]

In a storefront on Q Street in Sacramento, Kim Mack told a crowd that spilled out onto the sidewalk how she came to back Barack Obama.

With a son serving in the Iraq war, which she opposed, Mack was looking for a like-minded presidential candidate. She was impressed by the Illinois senator's books.

But the clincher came on March 17, when she met the Democratic contender face to face. She describes how he lit up the room with his wide smile, shook her hand and thanked her for volunteering.

"He looked at me, and the look in his eyes was worth 1,000 words," said Mack, now a regional field organizer. Obama hugged her and whispered something in her ear – she was so thrilled she doesn't remember what it was.

Then Mack brought home the point of her story for the crowd of 100 or so eager volunteers, sipping coffee and watching a PowerPoint presentation in the Obama campaign office on a recent Saturday.

"Did that make more impact on you than if I had talked about his health care plan or his stance on the environment?" she asked.

On the verge of a hectic few weeks leading to Super Tuesday, the crucial Feb. 5 multistate primary including California's, Mack wanted to drill home one of the campaign's key strategies: telling potential voters personal stories of political conversion.
-- "Obama Basic Training: Volunteers told to share personal conversion stories with voters -- not policy views," Sacramento Bee, January 21, 2008
I have several complicated essays in the works concerning the nature of the attraction that Barack Obama holds for many of his supporters. Once I complete some other articles, I will turn my full attention to them.

I want to mention the following, only because I am still so gobsmacked by it. A little while ago, in a fleeting moment of distraction, I turned my radio to the Stephanie Miller show. No more links for her; I gave her a link some months ago in connection with her grotesquely awful comments about the tasering of Andrew Meyer (she was Commentary Four). Miller is on vacation this week, so a couple of guest hosts are filling in.

The subject was Obama, and the comments in general were fairly horrifying, but in the way that has been typical for several months now. "Oh, his message is so wonderful!" What's that message? "Hope! Change!" And what's the nature of that hope and change?

So much for specifics.

Then another caller came on the line. She began by announcing that, of course, in general she doesn't believe any of that nonsense about God controlling our national destiny, and she certainly doesn't believe that God chose that awful George Bush to be our president.

BUT, she burbled on, she absolutely believes that Barack Obama has been ordained by God to lead the United States of America. AND, she further oozed, look at the physical effect he has on people! This, she portentously announced, IS. NOT. A. COINCIDENCE.


Reactions of this kind to Obama are fairly common. No, they are not this extreme much of the time, but such statements are far from unusual. And many of Obama's less obviously deluded supporters fall along the same continuum. Take a look at the woozily sentimental, intellectually reprehensible remarks collected at the beginning of "Obama's Whitewash," the third excerpt here, and the comments here. Moreover, this kind of reaction -- an emotion-driven response utterly devoid of coherent ideational content, a response that leads far too many people to be enthusiastically willing to believe virtually anything that Obama might proclaim and to follow him anywhere -- is one that Obama and his campaign explicitly seek to elicit.

People had better wake the hell up, and they had better study some history very damned fast. I have sometimes remarked, and I repeat the warning here, that the twentieth century was a nonstop train of horrors -- yet in one sense, the most terrible and horrifying aspect of the twentieth century is that we learned absolutely nothing from it.

Among the horrors of the twentieth century were several notable leaders who initiated events that led to slaughter and destruction on an ungraspably monumental scale. These charismatic leaders evoked a response from their followers almost identical to that called forth by Obama. These leaders specialized in "personal stories of political conversion." Doesn't anyone see the connection? Doesn't anyone remember any of this?

Read the Alice Miller excerpts that I offered just the other day. Try to understand what is going on here. Try to grasp the immense danger represented by this phenomenon.

If you doubt the nature of my concern on this issue, let me provide what some of you may regard in the nature of a shocker. I am not quite there yet, but I am seriously considering the following. Depending on how this campaign develops, and depending on how Obama conducts himself and -- very significantly to me -- how Obama's most devoted supporters act, I may conclude that, if you vote, you should vote for John McCain. Unbelievable, I realize, but I may have no choice but to think that the alternative is far too dangerous to countenance.

I won't vote for any national office myself for reasons I've indicated, somewhat fancifully in "The Tale that Might Be Told," and more substantively in "The Honor of Being Human: Why Do You Support?" Yes, read your Hannah Arendt, too.

Think about these issues, think about them long and hard, as I will also continue to do. And please, please try to wake the hell up.
I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain...
-- Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, v
UPDATE: My thanks to James Benjamin for replying to one post that reacted with predictable outrage to this entry, thus saving me some work. I may have some additional thoughts to add on this particular subject myself. And as indicated above, I am in the process of writing some longer articles about the Obama phenomenon, and about his followers in particular.

I knew this post would rattle some cages; that was, in fact, part of its purpose (given that everything I have said here is absolutely true and accurate in my view). But some of the emails I've received today are...hmm, interesting, and occasionally instructive with regard to some of the issues in play. So I may well have some additional shorter posts on this general subject as well, to address certain narrower arguments that have come up.