Many liberals consider Barack Obama a sort of Messiah, a man divinely appointed to lead America to the Promised Land. They consider him a perfect fusion of Jimmy Carter’s liberal policies (and yes, many liberals consider the Carter Presidency a success) and Bill Clinton’s electoral charm. In addition, Obama is supposed to be a man above politics, someone more akin to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi than Franklin D. Roosevelt. For example, liberal blogger Ezra Klein writes that “[Obama] is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I've heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves…”
Klein seems to regard Obama with a kind of quasi-religious adulation, and he is not alone. Hundreds of thousands of supporters seem caught up in the Movement. Take the reports of young women fainting at Obama rallies—these people are either faking it to emphasize Obama’s support among the young, which is more than a little disturbing, or actually fainting, which is worse. I mean, Obama might be an inspirational speaker, but I’m not sure that “Yes We Can!!!” is that inspirational.
Your average person may be susceptible to the Obama cult of personality, but even your most enthusiastic ordinary person is uninterested compared to the adoration Obama gets from celebrities. This video, produced by Obama supporter will.i.am, is one of the creepier videos out there. (If you don’t watch it, it features a sappy song about changing the world with chants of “Obama! Obama!” in the background). Oprah Winfrey declared Obama “the One we have been waiting for”, which displays an odd measure of cultlike devotion to Obama on Oprah’s part.
Obama seems to believe in his “Oneness” (to paraphrase Oprah) as well. Michelle Obama told the nation that “Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism…Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.” Noble sentiments, I suppose, but definitely a little unrealistic, and indeed a bit fascistic. The idea that Obama’s mere presence in the White House will somehow change America’s national character is absurd.
It is probably no use to point out to Obama’s more passionate supporters that Obama is definitely not a Messiah, or anything but a fairly able politician. The only legislative accomplishment as a Senator that Obama bothers to recognize on his campaign site is an ethics bill that Obama and Tom Coburn passed. Apart from that law, Obama has no other significant lawmaking achievements.
Some Republicans consider Obama a Democrat Messiah as well, but in a different way. They see him as an unstoppable juggernaut, a Democrat dream candidate whom no Republican can stand up against; a sort of combination of Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many conservatives see an Obama candidacy as death knell for the Republican Party in 2008.
Barack Obama is not Franklin Roosevelt. He is not John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton. He isn’t even Mike Huckabee. He is no more than a moderately successful politician and above average speaker.
His opponent for his Illinois Senate seat was Alan Keyes, who was called upon to run after the initial choice of the Republicans, Jack Ryan, was forced to drop out after an embarrassing report of a sex scandal. Alan Keyes’ perceived carpetbagger status (he lived in Maryland before running for an Illinois Senate seat) and personal unpredictability gave Obama a landslide (70% to 27%) victory.
Granted, it takes some doing to win a Senate seat, but circumstances were unusually favorable for Obama. He certainly did not display any unusually good political skills.
Many have pointed at his campaign against Hillary Clinton as evidence of those alleged superior political skills. Certainly, he has run a good campaign—but certainly not a great one. He has had at least two chances to knock Hillary out of the race—once before the New Hampshire primary, once before last Tuesday’s primary. Had Obama won New Hampshire, Hillary’s campaign probably would have been over. Had he won either Ohio or Texas, her campaign would have been so weakened that the nomination almost certainly would have been Obama’s. But he couldn’t deal the knockout blow either time.
Obama is a good politician, but not a world class one. His political skills are not in the same league with those of Kennedy, Reagan, or Bill Clinton. In fact, they may not be superior to those of John McCain. McCain, when he had the chance for a knockout blow against Mitt Romney in Florida, took the opportunity to seal his status as frontrunner. Obama, when given the same situation, could not. Given Hillary’s unattractiveness, her low position in the polls, and Obama’s almost uniformly favorable media coverage, Obama’s failure to eliminate her from the race is incredible.
Obama’s rhetorical skills are not as incredible as are commonly believed, either. He can get a crowd excited, but his speeches display a resemblance that is unusual in someone who is considered so superlatively gifted. You would expect something in his speeches beyond “Yes We Can!”. And his secondary catchphrase, “We are the people we have been waiting for” is as fatuous a phrase as can be imagined.
Obama is a good politician, a gifted speaker, and in all probability a good person—but no more than that. He is no Messiah, no automatic election-winner for the Democrats. He is destined for a successful career in politics, but not in salvation.