Sen. Obama#039;s outrageous messiah complex

by Beacon Staff • February 20, 2008

Barack Obama has come a long way in a short time, evolving from promising rookie to towering national figure in just a few years. The golden-tongued senator has proven a remarkable success in red and blue states alike. His electrified foot soldiers make rival partisans seem lackadaisical, and he has surely stirred the Democrats like nobody since Robert Kennedy.

Even Obama's adversaries find him compelling. In the right-wing National Review, Mona Charen admits, "It says a great deal about a liberal Democrat that he does not outrage conservative Republicans."

She isn't alone in her felicitous sentiments. The right's treatment of the senator has been easy, even sweet. This may be an anti-Clinton maneuver, but more likely it's a matter of genuine respect.

Bottom line: even if he falters in 2008, it's improbable that Obama will lose the nation's attention anytime soon. He has earned the canine allegiance of many Americans.

Yet, lately, a spooky side of Obama's charisma has emerged, and it's making some people sparing with their applause. There's a growing sense that "Obama-mania" has gotten out of hand, that it has entered Kool-Aid land.

Many Obama supporters are now better categorized as disciples. They exhibit evangelical fervor, apostolic devotion. Despite having no real acquaintance with the senator, they speak of him intimately and use terms of deep personal affection.

In The New York Times, Paul Krugman noted that the charmer's campaign is "dangerously close . [to] a cult of personality." This assessment is getting harder to challenge. Obama's self-conscious messianic flair, combined with a torrent of awed reportage, is turning a decent message into a downright scary phenomenon.

"He empowers us with words and the authentic emotion behind them . people are rushing into the tent to drink that magic water," pens Michael Sietzman for Huffington Post. Replace "magic water" with "holy water" and Sietzman could have been talking about Jesus Himself.

To be honest, there are disturbing elements of Obama's campaign that read like plagiarized Christianity. The campaign's renowned icon-the wide, glowing "O"-is eerily reminiscent of a halo. But that's the least of it.

Obama-rama is littered with explicit religious and Biblical imagery. Former Democratic senator Gary Hart has proclaimed that the candidate will "slay the awful dragon of race." Those extravagantly charged words echo the Book of Revelation, which features Archangel Michael dispatching a satanic dragon in a classic apocalyptic scene.

In Hart's defense, that allusion is fairly arcane. Many observers are not so coy.

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile lauded Obama as a "metaphysical force," but even that exaggeration pales in comparison to American Prospect wonk Ezra Klein's gushing confession of faith. "He is not the Word made flesh," bubbles Klein, "but the triumph of word over flesh." For those unfamiliar with Christian theology, "the Word made flesh" is a popular description of Christ's essence.

An equally explosive Jesus-Obama association appeared in The Washington Post, care of a grassroots fan: "Obama is like the new wine." Wine, traditionally, is closely related to Jesus' saving grace.

Never out-crazied, MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews raved, "This is bigger than Kennedy. Obama comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the new testament." The new testament-really? That's an awfully enormous (and awfully impious) assertion.

Such unhinged adulation is now commonplace. Obama lore constitutes a full-fledged genre. In major venues and minor, you learn of multitudes shrieking his name, of women fainting at rallies, of followers trading "conversion stories," of weeping masses. He is compared to Pope John Paul II, even directly to Jesus Christ. "Transformational," "transcendent," "covenant"-these are the sacred buzzwords of the Obama passion.

The senator happily embraces the divinity narrative. Backed by choir singers, his orations are delivered as scripture. "At some point in the evening," the senator preached in a January address, "a light is going to shine down and you will have an epiphany and you will say, 'I have to vote for Barack.'"

Frequently, Obama refers to his rapturous supporters as "believers." At a church in October, he asked a crowd to pray that he serve as an "instrument of God," going on to pronounce, "I am confident that we can create a kingdom right here on earth," a transparent reference to the Christian idea of Jesus' second coming, and subsequent worldly reign.

Tell me, where are those who deride Bush for "wearing his faith in his sleeve"? The president has never engaged in such lewd, persistent religiosity, nor has First Lady Laura insinuated that her husband can fix our "broken souls," to borrow Michelle Obama's troubling phrase. If Mrs. Bush had said as much, she would've been rightly castigated. The White House is not a vessel for spiritual (or, really, political) redemption, revolution or purification.

Barack Obama may make a fine national leader, but he's ultimately a simple man with the simple nature of all men: inclined towards good, but fundamentally weak, flawed, incomplete. To believe otherwise is to set ourselves up for disappointment and enable a scandalous and cultish sham.