The Right's Cult of Obama

What are we going to do about Barack Obama? More than any president in memory he has seeped into every aspect of the nation’s collective political consciousness—not the influence or charisma or persona of Obama but the fact of him. We’ve become so vested in him one way or another that no one is capable of dispassion about anything that has to do with him even indirectly. This includes those who have supported him and find themselves rationalizing, emotionally if not intellectually, how a former constitutional lawyer can have a record on civil liberties that’s occasionally confounding when it isn’t dismaying. It also includes those to the left of Obama who have never trusted him and have been predisposed from the outset to finding him compromised and wanting.

But it’s the right, of course, that most spectacularly manifests how Obama-centric the political culture has become. Though it once seemed this couldn’t be truer than during last year’s presidential contest, it’s been more true in the wake of Obama’s reelection and most true this week when Republicans on the floor of Congress have called Obama “unfit” for office, implicitly laying the foundation for charges of impeachment for some high crime no one can intuit let alone name. From the moment of the president’s ascendancy, the right has been gripped by a monomania unprecedented in terms of how disproportionate it is in relation to reality. In contrast to Americans of all stripes closing ranks behind George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 (and the most controversial election in a century), the financial crisis of 2008 occasioned a furious response among many Americans that was less about what Obama did and said than about who he is, or more precisely, about who some want to believe he is. The Tea Party that so indignantly insists on its tax-exempt status as a “social welfare” movement rather than a partisan one wasn’t born in reaction to any policy of Obama’s or as a vehicle by which an alternative would be offered in face of the most potentially cataclysmic economic meltdown in 75 years. The Tea Party was a reaction to the very biography of Barack Obama and the part of it that cites as his vocation “44th President of the United States.”

Anyone who can’t acknowledge this doesn’t possess the minimum intellectual honesty that makes him or her worth engaging in conversation. The shambolic activities of the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department’s various aggressions against the press, even the tragedy of the now fading Benghazi affair (“Watergate times ten” a month ago) are valid subjects of discussion. That these things bear some investigation, however, is insufficient to a right-wing so determined to make all of them about Obama—notwithstanding that thus far there isn’t a single piece of evidence that any of them are about Obama; thus the vagaries of language concerning “tone” and “atmosphere” and “a culture of intimidation”—that it would risk making them about nothing. The right’s zeal, in other words, suggests that if these things can’t be pursued to the president’s feet, then they’re barely worth pursuing.

With the coming of Obama, the right concluded that the Daniel Patrick Moynihan maxim of being entitled to your opinions but not your own facts is for sissies and Obama is the most radical president of all time by virtue of being Obama. This is a conviction held independent of whether the deficit has fallen under Obama rather than risen, whether taxes on most Americans have gone down rather than up, whether the number of people working for the government has shrunk rather than grown, whether the auto industry has survived rather than perished, whether the economy has improved rather than declined, whether al-Qaeda is weaker rather than stronger, and whether “all time” includes the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, and assorted Roosevelts.

The hatred of Obama that has so consumed the mission of congressional Republicans—indicated most vividly by Senator Mitch McConnell’s flat refusal to fill judicial vacancies and by the House Oversight Committee chairmanship of Darrell Issa, who in 2010 declared Obama the most corrupt president ever—also appears to have inspired self-emasculation among congressional Democrats, with the tenure of Harry Reid as his party’s Senate chief becoming more startling by the moment. Paralyzed by the prospect of someday becoming minority leader, Reid already acts like one rather than like the majority leader he presently is. The Obama hysteria that routinely characterizes conservative natterers of radio and television finally has infiltrated conservative intelligentsia as well, the recent musings of Peggy Noonan being the most conspicuous case in point. The author of both President Reagan’s best address, following the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, and the one at 1988’s Republican Convention by which candidate George H. W. Bush resurrected himself, Noonan is a first-rate speech writer with a gift for wedding poetry to ideology.

Poets and thinkers, however, aren’t necessarily the same. Over the years whenever Noonan has tried to pass herself off as a thinker, she’s gotten out of her depth, especially undone by her cultural pretensions; a couple of decades ago, writing about an artist who had photographed a crucifix submerged in urine, she opined that in simpler and better times there was little controversy on what constituted great art and offered as an example Walt Whitman, when in fact Leaves of Grass was considered obscene upon publication and Whitman was fired from his civil service job for writing it. Noonan has described Reagan as the Henry James of American politics, something that makes no sense if you’ve read Henry James. Laboring over the years to keep her distaste for Obama on a more cerebral plane—she once curiously described him as “languid”—lately she’s lost her composure, abhorrence of the president finally convincing her that his culpability in the IRS matter transcends Reagan’s acknowledged complicity in the plainly illegal acts that comprised the 1987 Iran-Contra scandal.

The once-honorable philosophy of Jeffersonian conservatism, by which we test the limits of government and the boundaries of the social contract, has become a pathology. It is so obsessed with the person of the president as to have taken leave of all sense. The right now defines itself almost wholly not by substantive disagreement with the president but bald hypocrisy, nitwitted misogyny, slavish corporatism, a toxicity of spirit and a sense of self-martyrdom, opportunism calling itself patriotism, narcissism calling itself principle, nihilism pretending to be religiosity, disdain for democracy parading as populism and contempt for constitutional process masquerading as reverence, an Orwellian vocabulary that traffics in groundless phrases like “enemies list” and “court-packing,” a hostility to empiricism so brash as to claim—as did a Republican congresswoman last weekend on Meet the Press—157 visits by IRS officials to the White House when there have been a total of 11, and faith bad enough to reject long-time right-wing holy grails like the individual mandate in health-care reform when the illegitimate occupant of the White House embraces them in hope of winning bipartisan support.

Maybe there will be something more to the IRS fiasco. Maybe the president’s fingerprints will be all over it. In the meantime, the right has made the sheer historical moment of Barack Obama a line in the sand. You may take honest issue with much or most of Obama’s policies, but you need to decide on which side of the line you stand given what that line has been made to represent and given that it’s the president’s opponents who drew it, not the president. This historical moment will give way to a posterity that will judge not this president alone but the rest of us too. We will decide what to do about Barack Obama when we decide what to do about ourselves.

Comments

While this all rings true for me I have to wonder how different it would be if, say, John Kerry won in 2004. The term "swift boating" was born of that election. This is swift boating too . . making up your own facts and words, repeating them ad nauseum until they are part of the popular lexicon and embracing your own willful ignorance. The composition of Congress aside, Kerry would have gotten the same treatment. Obama's is merely exacerbated because he is not 100% white.

Have to agree with kenlovisacpa. I have watched and listen to the conservative right since Obama's election in 2008, and it seems everything bad in the nation and world is the President's fault, no matter how much of a stretch that link might be. I have come to the sad conclusion that it's genesis is because Obama is what he is----a very smart and articulate moderate who can connect with most voters and who is not caucasion. Another way of saying that is that the racially intolerant can't tolerate him.

"Anyone who can’t acknowledge this doesn’t possess the minimum intellectual honesty that makes him or her worth engaging in conversation." What an arrogant and ridiculous statement. This makes me absolutely certain that the writer has no understanding of how conservatives think and act. And if you don't understand your "opponent", that makes you a weak contender.

It is not about race, it is about what we see as the downgrading of America. We believe that selling off our children's futures to China is a disgrace. We believe that social programs without incentives for becoming self-sufficient are enslaving. We believe that religious liberty is a core right, and that requiring us to pay for others' reproductive choices that go counter to our moral code is outrageous. We believe that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-none of which is being honored right now.

Get over yourselves-you would like to believe it is because he is black, but it is because we believe he is WRONG. For the past 20 years, about 1/2 of the country has voted conservative, and about 1/2 liberal. You can pretend that you are "winning" as a famous actor does, but if you look at it deeply, we are a country divided. A good leader, as Ben Carson stated, will try to mend the divide, not push it further apart. I am hoping and praying that soon, we will have a real LEADER to come along who understands that more government is not the answer to our country's problems.

neiljanebarlow, your comments would be funny if they were so self delusionally sad...If teapartiers/alleged conservatives were so concerned about America's future (and not focused on the color of the occupant of the WH), then you folks should have been in the streets during Bush II---you know, the administration that brought the country sky high deficits, corporate (and other special interest) give-a-ways, 2 wars that were not paid for and required no sacrifice except from the members of the military fighting in said wars, a complete degradation of the Constitution and an enlargement of the scope of Executive Power, quite possiblly acts of illegality (and, at a minimum, direct and intentional misleading of the American public with regard to the War in Iraq, among other issues) and let us not forget the blatant incompetence. Yet, as far as I know, you folks sat silently on the sidelines, not a word to be heard (and, unfortunately, you folks were not alone in your silence, and thus, the complicity). Furthermore, if you are really concerned about future generations, then one would expect there to be some concern for the environment and the planet (see, I don't know if you realize this, but without a planet that is hospitable to human life, there is no need for a social, economic and political system, since it is meaningless).

Then there is the issue of religious expression. As far as I can tell, there has been no attempt to infringe upon anyone's religious freedom. The issue of mutual respect and tolerance for those of all faiths is embedded in the Constitution, as opposed to special rights and/or privileges for those who espouse certan beliefs. If you want to know what goes against my core beliefs, its subsidizing the lavish lifestyle of some Wall Street fat cat that adds nothing to society and extracts a pound of flesh in return, and that is exactly what we as a country are doing and have been doing for some time (so, if you want to discuss a perverse incentive structure, perhaps you should focus on the big ticket item(s), like institutions that socialize all of the risks of their risky behavior while privatizing the returns...this is the big drain on the economic resources of our country).

Finally, it is difficult, if not impossible to bridge or mend a divide alone. Your commentary on this piece is a perfect example. It could have been written by one of the brain dead anchors at Fox News or any member of the Conservative Entertainment Complex as it is not grounded in any sense of reality.

Sorry neiljanebarlow, I hate to pile on, but you have made it too easy (furthermore, Steve Erickson has done an excellent job of synthesizing the right's hypocritical, and arguably pathological, obession with Obama, which make this all too easy...)
Do not think that your cyncial reference to Ben Carson went unnoticed (to insulate you from the assertion that your opposition to Obama is race based perhaps?). Dr. Carson may be a brillian neurosurgeon, but, in his brief time on the political stage, he showed himself to be a first class clown. Perhaps you have some memorable quotes from Herman Cain, E.W. Jackson or Mia Love that you would like to share (good grief!). Frankly, there is very little (if anything) about the Tea Part Platform that is intellectually credible. Let's take the Tea Party darling, Michelle Backman as an example. Besides showing herself to be a first class clown, Ms. Bachman "rails" against government spending while herself receiving farm subsidies from....THE GOVERNMENT (that would you if you pay taxes and definitely me since I pay a boatload). I guess those government dollars dampened her internal resolve for self actualization so much so that she continues to seek public largese through holding office and, while not actually doing anything while in office except spew a bunch of lies?
Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Gov't Overisght Committee (who may/may not be a Tea Partier, but is a member of the GOP and a true clown) is another example. Mr. Issa has built his business empire through public works projects and other legislation that he has championed that also happened to benefit his business interests. Way to clamp down on that government spending Mr. Issa. I could (and, I am willing to go on, but I hope you get my point, but I am sure that you don't).

This is not to imply that I believe that the Dems and/or Obama are saints-I do not think either are paragons of virtue, but my criticism of the President is focused on the promises that he made on the campaign trail and the actions that he has taken while in office that are not in line with those promises, as opposed to some fictionalized boogey man that never existed and serves as a distraction from the larger issues comfronting the country. I suggest that you try doing the same.

This is it...I promise, I am done. A recent FOIA request reveals that several GOP members of Congress who have submitted requests for "Obamacare" money (that would be tax payer dollars, from a program that these same Congressional members claim to despise, despite the fact that the ACA/Obamacare contains several provisions, like the individual mandate, that the GOP at one time championed)...http://www.thenation.com/article/174669/revealed-letters-republicans-seeking-obamacare-money

So, long and short-give it rest. Put your money where your mouth is and show me some intellectual heft behind your oppsition (to Obama), but until then, I will refer to the Tea Party/the GOP/Conservatives as the hypocrites that you have shown yourselves to be time again. You might spend some time developing them as opposed to listening to the Conservative Entertainment Complex.

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