So if Obamamania doesn't come close to making the cut as a "cult," then just what the hell is going on there?
What's going on is that we've finally got a Democratic candidate who understands exactly how the Republicans did it. As I pointed out my very first week on this blog, the GOP didn't come to power by talking about plans and policies; they did it by using strongly emotional appeals that grabbed people by the gut and didn't let them go. Theirs was never a movement based on reason. It was, from the very beginning, a movement of hearts and souls. And it was that deep, emotionally sustaining commitment that drew people in so deeply that they were willing to give 25 years of their lives to bringing about the New World Order their leaders promised them. We may hate what they've accomplished -- but we're never going to be able to do better until we can inspire that same kind of passion for change.
And Obama's doing just that. He's tapped into a deeply pressurized seam of repressed fury within the American electorate, and he's giving it voice, a focus, and an outlet. Are the results scary? You bet: these people want change on a scale that much of the status quo should find terrifying. Are they unreasoning? The followers may be -- but as long as their leader keeps a cool head, that's not as much of a problem right now as we might think; and the heat will dissipate naturally in time. Is this kind of devotion even appropriate? You bet. You don't get the kind of deep-level change we need without first exposing and channeling people's deep discontent. Obama's change talk may be too vague for most people's tastes (including mine); but the fact is that if we're serious about enacting a progressive agenda, rousing people's deepest dreams and desires and mobilizing that energy is exactly how it's going to happen. And Obama's the first candidate we've had in a generation who really, truly gets this.
The energy of Obama's rallies scares the hell out of reason-bound, well-educated liberals; but it's nothing new to anyone who's spent time in the overheated revival-meeting atmosphere that conservative politicians have used to rouse their voters for decades. Stirring up their base in exactly this same way is how they won. Our chronic inability to move people like that is why we've continued to lose.
Hillary is going the old route, with more plans and promises. And she's losing. Obama is trying something that's new to Democratic politics -- but that also has a proven track record when it comes to raising and consolidating truly transformational movements. In fact: that kind of change simply does not happen unless you've got this kind of committed mass movement.
This misguided "cult" talk not only misunderstands how social change occurs; it's also giving the GOP a weapon it will use to the hilt if Obama is the candidate in the general election. They're going to demonize those energetic kids as the re-animated zombie ghosts of the dirty fucking hippies of the 60s. And, in a historic sense, they are. They're our own children, emerging to finish the work that their parents got too tired and too disillusioned to finish. For us old Boomers, they're our very last shot at the dream.
We have a choice here. We can either bless them for their energy and commitment, hand them our tattered old ball, and see just how far they'll be able to move it down the field -- even as we stand by with the Bandaids and Bactine, shouting encouragement and coaching tips from the bench, just as many of us have done at a thousand soccer games through the years.
Or we can doom their fresh efforts with our own cynicism, withdraw our approval, make fun of them, and tell them they're going off the deep end by joining up with some crazy mass movement that will never deliver on its promises of change.
But we betray them, our country, and ourselves if we turn around and do to them what the right wing did to us with the "dirty fucking hippies" slander by perpetuating this "cult" meme. It's not factually accurate. And it's not fair to Obama, his growing cadre of followers, or even what's left of our own abandoned dreams.