As Barack Obama continues to rack up primary victories it appears that nothing can stop him. Commenting on his sweep of the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. primaries, CNN political strategist Donna Brazile called him "a metaphysical force in American politics." After watching Obama's victory speech, respected political pundit Chris Matthews sounded like a schoolgirl at a Justin Timberlake concert who doesn't quite understand the strange sensations she is feeling, when he exclaimed, "I felt this thrill going up my leg." But beneath Obama's air of superhuman invulnerability is an Achilles' heel, a potential liability that may shock many of his supporters if they learn the truth and could potentially derail his campaign. Contrary to the fervent belief of his most devoted fans, Obama is not superhuman, but is in fact all too human. Will Obama's supporters stand by him when they realize he is just a man or will their disillusionment prove to be a devastating blow?
Last year Tim Noah at Slate inaugurated the "Obama Messiah Watch," asking: "Is Barack Obama--junior U.S. senator from Illinois, best-selling author, Harvard Law Review editor, Men's Vogue cover model, and 'exploratory' presidential candidate--the second coming of our Savior and our Redeemer, Prince of Peace and King of Kings, Jesus Christ? His press coverage suggests we can't dismiss this possibility out of hand." A year later the idea that Obama is the messiah shows no sign of dissipating. A Google search for the words "Obama" and "messiah" yields a whopping 176,000 results. My friend Tom Watson has alerted me that there is even a blog called "Is Barack Obama the Messiah?" dedicated to collecting numerous messianic references to Obama in the press. "This is the New Testament," said his most devoted fan Chris Matthews. "The atmosphere at his events is such that one wonders if Obama is about to walk out with a basket with some loaves and fishes to feed the thousands," wrote Geoff Elliott in The Australian. "It's almost like the Messiah, you know?" said a young woman at one of his rallies, according to WCCO in Minnesota. "It was raw, naked, complete, worship, love, heart-whole passionate stunned and almost unbelieving but desperately wanting to believe him adoration," writes someone who attended an Obama rally in Virginia. "He is their Messiah. It's a cult. And they are going to be so disappointed."
Privately, many Obama advisors are also worried about a voter backlash if Obama does not manage to walk on water or raise Ronald Reagan from the dead before they go to the polls in November, and his advisors are already trying to dial back expectations just a little. Obama's wife, Michelle, pointed out in an interview with Glamour magazine that her husband has "stinky feet" and snores. "Barack is very much human," said Mrs. Obama, in case anyone was wondering. "So let's not deify him, because what we do is we deify, and then we're ready to chop it down." But her attempts at "humanizing" her husband may be too little, too late. In fact, some Obama devotees may just see these minor human failings as further evidence of his messianic nature. When Jesus took human form, He probably snored and had stinky feet, too, but that didn't make Him any less worthy of worship. Still, it's good to know that Obama has someone talking him down to earth every night while she is anointing his stinky feet with oil and drying them with her hair after a hard day on the campaign trail.
In a piece called "The Liberal Messiah" in the American Thinker, J.R. Dunn says that the cult of personality surrounding Obama is symptomatic of how liberals see their leaders. "A leader is a transcendent being, someone more than human, someone with a touch of the divine," writes Dunn. "Leaders don't handle tasks, they lead movements, they embody the spirit of the age. They transform. Leaders, to put it simply, are führers. This explains why liberals are so attracted to tyrants on the international scene." Unlike objects of devotion of these liberal fascists -- people like Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Stalin -- Ronald Reagan, he says, "didn't come across as anything preternatural." There is nothing unnatural or cult-like about Republicans' devotion to Reagan, of course. Republicans are not trying to secure Reagan's endorsement from beyond the grave, the way Obama seems to be trying to take on the mantel of Kennedy. And when Nancy Reagan looked up adoringly at the larger-than-life image of her husband behind her at the 1984 Republican Convention, it just emphasized his human qualities. (In fact, if Obama does get the nomination, Michelle Obama might want to try re-creating this touching image.) And President Bush always seemed like a guy you would want to have a beer with even when he was landing on an aircraft carrier in a flight jacket. Democrats, however, need to grow up and stop deifying their leaders. "While he'll never get my vote, he's an interesting and attractive figure," says Dunn, who can't help gushing a little himself. "And who knows, he may turn out to be the man who at last leads the Democrats beyond the need for this kind of adolescent hero worship."
Some conservatives, however, do not dismiss the idea of the messiah running for President out of hand, but they point out that He certainly wouldn't be running as a Democrat. "Obama is an advocate of gay rights, a strong believer in the concept of private property as social property, an abortion-on-demand fanatic," writes Ben Shapiro. "His pledge to move beyond the politics of the 1960s is a pledge to achieve unity in the fully triumphant program of the 1960s. If Obama is a Messiah, he is a secular Messiah, preaching the word of Tom Hayden." Joe Hirschhorn echoes the thoughts of many Republicans when he says that he might be willing to believe Obama is a political messiah and even vote for him if he took a strong stance against abortion, high taxes and illegal immigration, the way Jesus would.
While Obama may not do everything Jesus would do, many Republicans fret that if voters are convinced that Obama is the messiah it will be difficult to beat him in the Fall. Of course, Republicans would hate to throw the first stone, but there may be no other way of convincing voters that Obama is not the second coming short of muddying his white robes a little. Some Republican flacks are already trying desperately to point out chinks in Obama's armor. Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters reveals that Obama is not, in fact, as omniscient as he appears. A volunteer setting up an Obama office in Texas had a Cuban flag with a picture of Che Guevara tacked up in her office and Obama apparently knew nothing about it. How can he expect to run the government if he doesn't know what every underling is doing at all times? Morrissey said that Obama must immediately deny that he is an admirer of Che Guevara, but so far Obama has declined to take his advice. Meanwhile, Dean Barnett has discovered that when Obama is speaking without the aid of a Teleprompter, he sometimes pauses as if he is trying to think of what to say. Imagine what it would be like to have a President who is not as articulate when he is speaking extemporaneously as he is when reading from a speech. And as far as we know, Jesus didn't need notes when he gave the Sermon on the Mount. It could be a "real vulnerability" for Obama according to Jake Tapper of ABC News. These are just a couple examples of the devastating attacks that are already being levied against Obama. It can only get worse.
Some believe that the messianism surrounding Obama may actually be evidence of racism. It may be that our standards for a black Jesus are not quite as rigorous as our standards for a white Jesus. Ann Althouse points out that there is a bigotry of low expectations in the "presentation of Obama as godlike for accomplishing tasks that require skill within the range of mere mortals....What accounts for amazement to the point of adoration at the fact that a man possesses excellent skill at something like note taking? Is it not that he can do it and he's black?" In a piece in the Los Angeles Times last year, film critic David Ehrenstein, who is black and quite articulate, said that much of the fawning over Obama reflects a desire of many white Americans for a "Magic Negro" who can "assuage white 'guilt' (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest." This post-modern folk hero is seen chiefly in cinema, he wrote, from the characters portrayed by Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field, To Sir with Love and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner to Morgan Freeman's chauffeur in Driving Miss Daisy. " Like a comic-book superhero," said Ehrenstein, "Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn't project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him."
But even if Republican strategists -- or even Hillary -- don't find the kryptonite that will bring this Superman down, it's difficult to see how Obama can sustain the level of excitement he has stirred for the next nine months as we get to know him better. As the VH1 show Scott Baio Is 46, reminds us, there comes a time in the life of every adolescent girl, and even Chris Matthews, when they peel the yellowing photos of Scott Baio they cut out of Tiger Beat off their bedroom walls and toss them in the garbage bin. Barack Obama will be 46 in August. Will Chris Matthews and Obama's other devoted disciples still have his picture on their bedroom walls then?
Illustration by Ray Noland a.k.a. CRO from the Chicago Tribune via the blog "Is Barack Obama the Messiah?"
Crossposted at Jon Swift