Commentary Magazine


If the Messiah Fails

In yesterday’s Times of London, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

Among the most enthusiastic Obama supporters, there are tinges of hero worship and aspirations beyond anything any human being can deliver. And the hostility born of dashed expectations is always the worst. People expecting a messiah will at some point be forced to realise they have merely elected a president.

He has it exactly wrong. Obama’s most devoted fans don’t expect anything of him. His simply being Barack Obama, appearing as he does, saying what he says, is all that’s required. As is the way with true delusional adoration, any move from sensation into quantifiable performance risks compromising the illusion. And any failing of the idol is blamed on the circumstances around him. When prophecy fails, true believers don’t examine their convictions–they tweak their perceptions of reality. We’ve already seen this in Obama’s case. When he flips on an issue–the surge, guns, abortion, missile defense, etc.–the story is not the he changed his position, but that we, the American public, had not been careful enough observers to see that the new position was the old position the whole time. And when a long-time associate is revealed as an unhinged radical, the story is not that Obama exercised bad judgment in befriending the person, but that “this is not the so-and-so I’ve always known.” The rightness of Obama is not falsifiable. He, like light, is consistent, you see. It’s space and time that must bend to accommodate the speed of his progress.

The whole appeal of the Obama revolution is that it’s effortless, passive. “We are the change we’ve been waiting for,” is vastly different from “we will take action to effect change.” It’s also a lot easier. When Obama says, “Only in America can my story be told,” he’s referring to the unremarkable fact of his parents having met in Honolulu. Praising geographical circumstance is not the same thing as praising the unique opportunities for achievement guaranteed in the U.S.’s founding documents. If you’re an Obama fan, biography trumps experience, temperament trumps policy. We’ve heard endlessly about the symbolic importance of an Obama presidency. Symbols are not expected to do–just be. This is how Obama gets away with dodging every important question and walking back anything that sounds like conviction. And if the world goes to Hell all around him, it will be the world’s fault–for failing to understand his greatness.

UPDATE: Noah just directed me to this applicable passage from Animal Farm:

That evening Squealer explained privately to the other animals that Napoleon had never in reality been opposed to the windmill. On the contrary, it was he who had advocated it in the beginning, and the plan which Snowball had drawn on the floor of the incubator shed had actually been stolen from among Napoleon’s papers. The windmill was, in fact, Napoleon’s own creation. Why, then, asked somebody, had he spoken so strongly against it? Here Squealer looked very sly. That, he said, was Comrade Napoleon’s cunning. He had SEEMED to oppose the windmill, simply as a manoeuvre to get rid of Snowball, who was a dangerous character and a bad influence. Now that Snowball was out of the way, the plan could go forward without his interference. This, said Squealer, was something called tactics. He repeated a number of times, “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” skipping round and whisking his tail with a merry laugh. The animals were not certain what the word meant, but Squealer spoke so persuasively, and the three dogs who happened to be with him growled so threateningly, that they accepted his explanation without further questions.

We can use this again, when Obama flips on wind power.