Friday, November 21, 2008

Cult of Personality, Cult of the Middle

At 11:20pm, 21 November 2008, I am watching the fantastically annoying Charlie Rose interview the quite interesting Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law professor, who speaks glowingly of Saint Barack.

Lessig joins a host of academics I have heard describe Obama in glowing, near-reverential terms. (Lawrence Tribe was among this number.) That so many, at Chicago and Harvard especially, rave so uncritically raises serious questions about what apparently is a sad absence of great minds at these institutions.

In the endlessly glowing reports is an oft-repeated dogma — the magic of the middle "not left, not right". Someone who steadfastly walks the middle of the road is likely to get hit by a car. But not according to the American political dogma in which moderation is a virtue no matter what the content of that moderation.

The endless accolades remind me of the early days of Clinton. Several moderate and liberal friends of mine were beside themselves when I raised doubts about Clinton. His early capitulation on healthcare, his attacks in Iraq and elsewhere, his passion for deregulation — all spoke to a man who was no liberal in any sense I recognized.

Strikingly, this evening I heard an ABC reporter compare Obama to Clinton with Obama's likely selection of Gen. James L. Jones to be National Security Adviser. The reporter felt that Obama, like Clinton, liked to surround himself with military men to compensate in some degree for his own lack of military experience. Let us hope that Obama doesn't follow Clinton's example with an early attack on a civilian population (as Clinton did in an April 1993 attack in Iraq).

I did admire Obama in the run up to the primary and through much of the election cycle. I voted enthusiastically for him. It was genuinely moving to crowded into the entry hall of the Brooklyn Museum with hundreds of other voters. All of them, it seemed, were eager to vote for Obama.

But to hear Prof. Lessig or anyone speak so fulsomely (in the actual meaning of "fulsome"), so glowingly — with absolutely no qualification, as if this were indeed the Second Coming — should raise concerns for anyone, especially anyone who shares the characteristic that Lessig praises in Obama, namely an expansive, open view of the world, including the world of ideas.

An expansive, open view must include the possibility of criticizing Obama. But there is none of this in the developing Cult.

But there is plenty to support criticism. There is simply nothing so far in Obama's choices for advisers or cabinet members to sustain hope for a "transformational presidency".

Moreover, the idolization of the middle — now in the form of the enlightened moderate Obama — is purely fallacious. Where on earth do Americans, including Stanford or Harvard law professors, get the notion that being in the middle means being correct? The notion is patently absurd. The middle of WHAT?

If being pro-civil rights in 1955 meant being left — and it did — then the left was correct. Being pro-union in 1932 was a leftist position. And it was the true position.

There is a world of difference between giving a hearing to all sides and trying to find a solution that synthesizes all sides — between hearing all sides and trying to make all sides happy. It is a sad commentary on American discourse that even the "best" educated clearly do not understand this. It is particularly discouraging in a nation where it is routinely assumed that any issue has only two sides, two to match the two parties.

Moreover, Obama is most emphatically not giving a hearing to all sides. Entirely absent from his advisers are any representatives of labor, of the common people, of advocates for single-payer health care, of advocates for Arab or Muslim rights (most especially the rights of Palestinians in their own homeland). Obama has already ruled out any prosecution of Bush administration figures. That is not a moderate position, it is mere surrender to political expedience.

All of this points to a nascent Cult of Personality with Obama as the Revered One.

Anyone even dimly aware of the history of the past three or four thousand years should be wary, at best.

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