Rob Vischer at Mirror of Justice links to a fascinating op-ed by a Roman Catholic priest, Jonathan Morris. Fr. Morris writes:
As soon as politics, for the sake of politics, becomes a society’s principle passion — its object of hope, its pearl of great price — that society has already subjected itself to a type of totalitarianism. Unwittingly, it has relinquished a citizen’s and a people’s privilege and responsibility of self-determination. It has bet the outcome of the common pursuit of happiness on the eventual good actions of chosen elite.
There is certainly a distinction between politics as a form of religion and garden variety enthusiasm for a candidate, but isn't there danger in the notion that much of life ought to be politicized? Should we really view politicians as people who will care for us and help us through large parts of our lives?
Hillary Clinton certainly conveys that message. She is quite clear that it takes a village to raise a child and equally clear that the state runs the village. This is the politics of meaning. The problem, of course, is not with the search for meaning but with the looking for it in politics.
But Obama has taken the desire for a political savior beyond rationality and I find it - I can't help myself here - more than a bit creepy.
A writer, who supports Obama, expresses her concern that people making phone calls on his behalf are encourged to skip policy and share personal stories of how they "came to Obama." In a Frank Luntz focus group, one Democratic voter says that an attraction of Obama is that he will unify the country because "when we all have our own opinions and argue to death, nothing gets done." The Body must unite behind its Head. The video that everyone is so excited about actually obscures whatever Obama is saying save for a few platitudes and the phrase "yes, we can."
While I think it is a legitimate criticism of the Obama campaign that its messaging is deliberately vague on what it is that we can do and whose time it is that has come, I find the subtext embodied in that lack of particulars even more disturbing. If the message is not that we can do these specific things, then we must be able to do anything and everything. On one level, this is an appeal to nothing in particular. It simply invokes an aesthetic. Who knows what it means, but it sounds pretty and looks good.
On another level, it immanentizes the eschaton. We can found paradise on earth through a benevolent state. The government can love you.
I certainly hope that Barack the man - as opposed to Obama the image - appreciates that this is not only false but dangerous.
Law professor Bill Brewbaker says that he voted for McCain "in part because nobody's going to mistake him for the messiah." But isn't messianic hope the very rationale of the Obama campaign? If the "unity" he seeks is around something other than his person, then he has to explain what it entails and he becomes, not a transcending figure, but the most liberal Senator. Substantively, Obama's policies are not new or unique; they are old and common. Perhaps that old and common liberalism is what the country wants this year. But the fact that it is not what he puts on offer suggests otherwise.