Media figures call Obama supporters' behavior "creepy," compare them to Hare Krishna and Manson followers

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

In recent days, numerous media figures have likened Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's (IL) supporters to members of a cult, and several have described his supporters' enthusiasm as "creepy." For instance:

  • In a February 8 Los Angeles Times column headlined "He's got Obamaphilia," Joel Stein referred to Obama's popularity as "Obamaphilia" and his supporters as "Obamaphiles" and members of "the Cult of Obama." Stein asserted: "Obamaphilia has gotten creepy. I couldn't figure out if the two canvassers who came to my door Sunday had taken Ecstasy or were just fantasizing about an Obama presidency, but I feared they were going to hug me." He added: "What the Cult of Obama doesn't realize is that he's a politician. Not a brave one taking risky positions like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, but a mainstream one. He has not been firing up the Senate with stirring Cross-of-Gold-type speeches to end the war. He's a politician so soft and safe, Oprah likes him. There's talk about his charisma and good looks, but I know a nerd when I see one. The dude is Urkel with a better tailor."
  • In a February 8 New York Times column headlined "Questions for Dr. Retail," David Brooks referred to Obama as the "Hopemeister" and compared his supporters to Hare Krishna members: "Obama's people are so taken with their messiah that soon they'll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings." He also wrote: "Have you noticed that he's actually carried into his rallies by a flock of cherubs while the heavens open up with the Hallelujah Chorus? I wonder how he does that."
  • In a February 7 column, Time columnist Joe Klein wrote of Obama's speech following the February 5 Super Tuesday primaries: "And yet there was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism -- 'We are the ones we've been waiting for' -- of the Super Tuesday speech and the recent turn of the Obama campaign."
  • In a February 7 post on his ABCNews.com blog, Political Punch, senior national correspondent Jake Tapper wrote of Obama's supporters: "Inspiration is nice. But some folks seem to be getting out of hand." Tapper continued: "It's as if [former Senate Majority Leader] Tom Daschle [D-SD] descended from on high saying, "Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of Chicago a Savior, who is Barack the Democrat." Concluding the post, Tapper compared Obama supporters to followers of Charles Manson. Tapper wrote: "The Holy Season of Lent is upon us. Can Obama worshippers try to give up their Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities for a few weeks? At least until Easter, or the Pennsylvania primary, whichever comes first..."

In an "UPDATE," Tapper added: "Let me be clear: I'm not saying there shouldn't be enthusiasm in politics. I'm merely touching on the fact that some Obama supporters' exhuberance [sic] seems to be getting a little out of hand."

From Stein's February 8 Los Angeles Times column:

You are embarrassing yourselves. With your "Yes We Can" music video, your "Fired Up, Ready to Go" song, your endless chatter about how he's the first one to inspire you, to make you really feel something -- it's as if you're tacking photos of Barack Obama to your locker, secretly slipping him little notes that read, "Do you like me? Check yes or no." Some of you even cry at his speeches. If I were Obama, and you voted for me, I would so never call you again.

Obamaphilia has gotten creepy. I couldn't figure out if the two canvassers who came to my door Sunday had taken Ecstasy or were just fantasizing about an Obama presidency, but I feared they were going to hug me. Scarlett Johansson called me twice, asking me to vote for him. She'd never even called me once about anything else. Not even to see "The Island."

What the Cult of Obama doesn't realize is that he's a politician. Not a brave one taking risky positions like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, but a mainstream one. He has not been firing up the Senate with stirring Cross-of-Gold-type speeches to end the war. He's a politician so soft and safe, Oprah likes him. There's talk about his charisma and good looks, but I know a nerd when I see one. The dude is Urkel with a better tailor.

All of this is clear to me, and yet I have fallen victim. I was at an Obama rally in Las Vegas last month, hanging at the rope line afterward in the cold night desert air, just to see him up close, to make sure he was real. I'd never heard a politician talk so bluntly, calling U.S. immigration policy "scapegoating" and "demagoguery." I'd never had even a history teacher argue that our nation's history is a series of brave people changing others' minds when things were on the verge of collapse. I want the man to hope all over me.

Still, I can't help but feel incredibly embarrassed about my feelings. In the "Yes We Can" music video that will.i.am made of Obama's Jan. 8 speech, I spotted Eric Christian Olsen, a very smart actor I know. (His line is "Yes we can.") I called to see if he had gone all bobby-soxer for Obama, or if he was just shrewdly taking a part in a project that upped his Q rating.

Turns out Olsen not only contributed money, he volunteered in Iowa and California and made hundreds of calls. He also sent out a mass e-mail to his friends that contained these lines: "Nothing is more fundamentally powerful than how I felt when I met him. I stood, my hand embraced in his, and ... I felt something ... something that I can only describe as an overpowering sense of Hope." That's the gayest e-mail I've ever read, and I get notes from guys who've seen me on E!

From Brooks' February 8 New York Times column:

Barack Obama is an experience provider. He attracts the educated consumer. In the last Pew Research national survey, he led among people with college degrees by 22 points. Educated people get all emotional when they shop and vote. They want an uplifting experience so they can persuade themselves that they're not engaging in a grubby self-interested transaction. They fall for all that zero-carbon footprint, locally grown, community-enhancing Third Place hype. They want cultural signifiers that enrich their lives with meaning.

Obama offers to defeat cynicism with hope. Apparently he's going to turn politics into a form of sharing. Have you noticed that he's actually carried into his rallies by a flock of cherubs while the heavens open up with the Hallelujah Chorus? I wonder how he does that.

[...]

Did you hear the message of Clinton's speech Tuesday night? It's a rotten world out there. Regular folks are getting the shaft. They need someone who'll fight tougher, work harder and put loyalty over independence.

Then did you see the Hopemeister's speech? His schtick makes sense if you've got a basic level of security in your life, if you're looking up, not down. Meanwhile, Obama's people are so taken with their messiah that soon they'll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings. There's a ''Yes We Can'' video floating around YouTube in which a bunch of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and the guy from the Black Eyed Peas are singing the words to an Obama speech in escalating states of righteousness and ecstasy. If that video doesn't creep out normal working-class voters, then nothing will.

From Klein's February 7 Time column:

His New Hampshire concession speech, with the refrain "Yes, We Can," was turned into a brilliant music video featuring an array of young, hip, talented and beautiful celebrities. The video, stark in black-and-white, raised an existential question for Democrats: How can you not be moved by this? How can you vote against the future?

And yet there was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism -- "We are the ones we've been waiting for" -- of the Super Tuesday speech and the recent turn of the Obama campaign. "This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different. It's different not because of me. It's different because of you." That is not just maddeningly vague but also disingenuous: the campaign is entirely about Obama and his ability to inspire. Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause -- other than an amorphous desire for change -- the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.

That is not unprecedented. It has echoes of Howard Dean's 2004 primary effort, although in Dean's case the propellant was substance, not rhetoric -- the candidate's early courageous voice against the war. But Dean soon found that wasn't enough. In June 2003 he told me he needed to broaden his movement, reach out past the young and the academic and find a greater array of issues that could inspire working people. He never quite found that second act, and his campaign became about process, not substance: the hundreds of thousands of supporters signing up on the Internet, the millions of dollars raised. He lost track of the rest of the world; his campaign was about ... his campaign.

Obama would never be so tone-deaf, but he is facing a similar ceiling, a similar inability to speak to the working people of the Democratic Party (at least, those who are not African American) or find an issue, a specific issue, that distinguishes him from his opponent.

From Tapper's February 8 Political Punch blog post, titled "And Obama Wept":

Inspiration is nice. But some folks seem to be getting out of hand.

It's as if Tom Daschle descended from on high saying, "Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of Chicago a Savior, who is Barack the Democrat."

[...]

And behold, Obama met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.

The Holy Season of Lent is upon us. Can Obama worshippers try to give up their Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities for a few weeks?

At least until Easter, or the Pennsylvania primary, whichever comes first...

jpt

UPDATE: Let me be clear: I'm not saying there shouldn't be enthusiasm in politics. I'm merely touching on the fact that some Obama supporters' exhuberance seems to be getting a little out of hand. Obama himself joked about this at a Hollywood fundraiser, as noted in Men's Vogue:

"When Morgan Freeman comes over to greet Obama, the senator begins bowing down both hands in worship. 'This guy was president before I was,' says Obama, referring to Freeman's turn in Deep Impact and, clearly, getting a little ahead of his own bio. Next, a nod to Bruce Almighty: 'This guy was God before I was.'"

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