The Chosen One

As we gear up for the 2008 general election campaign for President, a disquieting portrait of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is emerging. In separate press articles in the Boston Globe and the Washington Post this week, Obama is criticized for narcissism, the highest level of self-love. Globe columnist Joan Vennochi laments, "Barack Obama was always a larger-than-life candidate with a healthy ego. Now he's turning into the A-Rod of politics. It's all about him."  While acknowledging that "A presidential candidate is supposed to get bigger on the national stage...", she concludes "That doesn't mean his head should, too." Charles Krauthammer of the Post asks "...has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?" Ms. Vennochi notes that Obama, in her opinion, sees himself as the second coming of John F. Kennedy, a comparison given credence by the endorsements he received from JFK's brother Senator Ted Kennedy and JFK's daughter Caroline Kennedy, the last living member of the young, attractive and energetic family that brought us Camelot. In fact, she officially draped the mantle of Camelot over Senator Obama's shoulders, stating in her endorsement piece in the New York Times, "A President Like My Father," that "I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."

Pretty heady stuff, isn't it? Consider the fact, however, that when JFK was elected President of the United States, he had already served six years in the U.S. House of Representatives and seven years in the U.S. Senate, was a decorated war hero with nearly four years of military service including combat duty in the Pacific theater of operations during World War II, and had received a Pulitzer Prize for his book "Profiles in Courage", recounting how eight U.S. Senators risked their careers for their principles. Senator Obama's three years in the U.S. Senate were preceded by just under eight years in the Illinois Senate and his most notable literary achievement to date, according to Mr. Krauthammer, "is a biography of his favorite subject: himself."

Frankly, Senator Obama's impact on the nation is more like that of another Kennedy, the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Ever see the movie, "Bobby"? It accurately captured the mood of the nation at the time of his candidacy for President. We were in the midst of an unpopular war with an unpopular President at the helm, and domestic turmoil was high as were the tensions between the races. We were as polarized as a nation could be; if you stop to think about it, the parallels between 1968 and 2008 are eerie. Into this maelstrom steps RFK, the brother and closest confidante of the slain President John F. Kennedy. Despite having served only three years as U.S. Attorney General and another three years as the U.S. Senator from New York, his campaign became a symbol of the lost dreams of Camelot and there was great hope that he could revive them. A Wikipedia entry on his campaign could be a description of Senator Obama's campaign today: "Kennedy stood on a ticket of racial and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power and social improvement. A crucial element to his campaign was an engagement with the young, whom he identified as being the future of a reinvigorated American society based on partnership and equality." His passion and compassion for the poor and minorities was genuine and he spoke candidly and harshly to people of privilege who he believed owed more to their less fortunate brothers and sisters. In that regard he was, in my opinion, much more authentic than Senator Obama, who I perceive as being a much more calculating and skilled politician who doesn't let his passions get in the way of his ambitions.

Like Obama, RFK was a compelling speaker and his speech to a black audience in Indianapolis on the day of Martin Luther King's assassination is credited with keeping that city calm while riots erupted across the rest of the nation. He drew huge crowds wherever he went, with people reaching out to touch and pull at him, tearing his clothes and pulling off his shoes. Author Thurston Clarke referred to RFK's campaign as "82 days that inspired America." His assassination froze him in time forever as the slain savior, the one who could have changed the world had he only lived. That is the torch that has been passed to Senator Obama, at least in the minds and hearts of his energized followers and perhaps in his own mind as well.

These columns addressing Senator Obama's elevated view of himself don't even mention the "Obama as Messiah" phenomenon that has been building since his speech before the Democratic National Convention in 2004 that rocketed him from national obscurity to instant hero status. If you want to be truly frightened, go to the blog "Is Barack Obama the Messiah?" and read some of the statements made by people about Senator Obama. Here's a representative example from U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., a member of the Obama campaign team: "What Barack Obama has accomplished is the single most extraordinary event that has occurred in the 232 years of the nation’s political history. ... The event itself is so extraordinary that another chapter could be added to the Bible to chronicle its significance." Say what?

As you read through this blog, you'll be stunned at the words supposedly intelligent and rational people use to describe Senator Obama - "a LightWorker, that rare kind of attuned being...who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet." Or how about this one? "Everything's going to be affected by this seismic change in the universe." Or this one? "Not just an ordinary human being but indeed an Advanced Soul." Slate Magazine, not generally regarded as a conservative publication, has a tongue-in-cheek series by Timothy Noah that began in January 2007 called "The Obama Messiah Watch" to chronicle the "gratuitously adoring biographical details that appear in newspaper, television, and magazine profiles of this otherworldly presence in our midst." A Google search on "Obama Messiah" turns up 1,560,000 hits compared to 612,000 hits for "Obama Antichrist" (yes, some subscribe to the belief that Senator Obama is otherworldly but not in a positive way).

Senator Obama's supporters will probably decry this characterization of their hero, saying that he never asked for the praise and adoration that has come his way. Consider, then, the words of his speech the night he effectively secured the Democratic nomination:

"If we are willing to work for it and fight for it and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless. This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment, this was the time when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals."

Wow - at the moment of his nomination, we suddenly began caring for sick people, hiring the unemployed, halting the melting of the polar ice caps and restoring the ecological balance of the planet? If he can do that, we don't need an election! All kidding aside, does he believe he's the only one who cares about and has taken action on these issues and many others? Were we so damaged as a nation before he arrived on the national scene? Despite the hatred liberals have for the America we have rather than the America they desire, as CNN commentator Glenn Beck points out, we are still the strongest, most prosperous and most caring nation on the planet. As scholar Arthur C. Brooks states, we are "a nation of givers." Our charitable contributions set a record last year despite the difficult economic times. We have been free from terrorist attacks on our soil since 9/11, a direct consequence, I believe, of our foreign and domestic security policies. Liberals complain that we are not loved around the world but the President's first duty is to defend us, not run for "BFF-in-chief" (for those who don't have teenagers, "BFF" stands for "Best Friends Forever"). Travel to some of the "vacation spots" of the world like some of the young people in our church are doing, places like Guatemala and Uganda, and find out what real poverty looks like. Visit China, the same China that's telling local bars in Beijing not to serve blacks and Mongolians during the Olympics, if you want to know what real suppression of civil liberties looks like. Move to Europe, where gas has been at $4 a gallon for decades and is now at $9 a gallon if you want to know what real high gas prices look like. Yes, we can always be better but we shouldn't lose sight of the abundant blessings that are already ours. If anything, our liberal friends need a heavy dose of perspective - but I digress!

What's even more bothersome to me is the number of disaffected Republicans who are buying into the "Obamessiah" movement. Senator Obama has even coined a name for them - "Obamacans." This phenomenon has been captured in several press articles this year, including one in the New Yorker Magazine by Bruce Bartlett, a former economic advisor to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. While he's not ready to jump on the Obama bandwagon, he understands why some Republicans are doing so (I don't). Some of the more prominent names on the list are Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of the late Republican President Eisenhower and a stalwart Republican herself until now, Jeffrey Hart of the conservative National Review Magazine, and Colin Powell, who hasn't openly endorsed Obama but has spoken highly of him and may yet endorse him. As a principled Republican, I can't see how any GOPer can embrace a candidate who was described by the non-partisan National Journal as the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, is heartily endorsed by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and Planned Parenthood for his support of unrestricted abortions, and looks first to government to solve every problem and plans to raise taxes to further expand government into health care and other areas of public life. How can we be so starry-eyed as to fall under the spell of his celebrity and ignore his record and his stated views?

Perhaps Senator Obama is the perfect candidate for our times. In our celebrity-driven culture, substance matters less than style and Senator Obama has style in spades. Young, handsome, bright and oratorically gifted, he's tailor-made for the age of "American Idol" and "Entertainment Tonight." While it's true that a President must be not just the nation's chief executive but also a visionary leader and purveyor of hope, this is the first time in my recollection that the scales have tipped so dramatically toward inspiration over execution. We need to turn our gaze away from his illuminated being and think critically about what he actually proposes to do. As English philosopher, statesman and author Francis Bacon once said, "Hope is a good breakfast but it is a bad supper."