Obama might be the shaman that America needs
Summary: Since we are about to elect a President largely on the basis of his charisma, the FM blog is running a some articles on this topic. Know it before you buy it! This is the third in the series.
At what point does criticism of Obama’s charisma and rhetoric become criticism of leadership itself — and blind faith in technocratic solutions so loved by policy nerds? Michael Knox Beran crosses that line in “Obama, Shaman“, City Journal, Summer 2008 — “The candidate’s post-masculine charisma tempts America in the age of Oprah.”
His article opens well.
In the patois of punditry, “charismatic” has come to mean little more than “like a rock star.” But the striking thing about the charismatic leader is the extent to which his followers regard him as a healer of wounds, an alleviator of pain. In this sense, surely, Senator Barack Obama is charismatic. … he has entered the American psyche not as a hero but as a healer.
… But Obama’s rhetoric encompasses more than a promise of racial healing. He is not the first politician to argue that politics can redeem us, but in posing as the Adonis who will turn winter into spring, he revives one of the more pernicious political swindles: the belief that a charismatic leader can ordain a civic happy hour and give a people a sense of community that will make them feel less bad.
In the second page Beran seems to repudiate the very concept of leadership.
Obama finds a scapegoat for the present discontents in politics — a politics, he argues, that breeds “division, and conflict, and cynicism” and that has become a “dead zone” in which “narrow interests vie for advantage and ideological minorities seek to impose their own versions of absolute truth.”
The solution, he says, lies in a political reformation. Unless we “begin the process of changing politics and our civic life,” we will bequeath to our children “a weaker and more fractured America” than the one we inherited. Hence his mantra, “Change we can believe in.” Like the Nicene Creed, Obama’s doctrine begins in belief. Credo. Once we believe in the possibility of a transformative politics, “the perfection begins.” … We discover that “this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one.” So believing, we can replace a politics that breeds division, conflict, and cynicism with a politics that fosters unity and peace. In Obama’s “project of national renewal,” government can become an expression of “our communal values, our sense of mutual responsibility and social solidarity.”
This reads like Zeno’s proof that motion is impossible. History contains countless examples of leaders sparking social and moral regeneration by recalling a people to their ideas. Does Beran believe than reformation is impossible? Or that if possible, it cannot be initiated by great leaders exhorting their peoples — but instead by some other method?
Probably Obama is overselling what America can dream, what we can accomplish. Better that, however, than leaders who do not believe in America and its dreams. Spiritual regeneration, done by us as individuals, may be the only path to success for America.
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Other posts about America’s political regime
Other posts about the candidates for President
1. How the Iraq and Vietnam wars are mirror images of each other (7 February 2008) — Now we have McCain, the leading Republican Presidential candidate, talking of an open-ended commitment to victory in Iraq.
2. What do blogs do for America? (26 February 2008) — As our problems reach critical dimensions and our economy sinks into what is (at best) a severe recession, our national leadership will likely move into the hands of someone with astonishingly little capacity to govern.
3. A look at the next phase of the Iraq War: 2009-2012 (1 March 2008) — What is next in Iraq? None of the leading candidates have expressed any intention of leaving Iraq – except in the distant and vague future. McCain intends to fight so long as (or until) we suffer few casualties, then stay for a long time (perhaps a hundred years, as McCain said here and here) ). On the other hand, Obama has been quite explicit…
4. Our metastable Empire, built on a foundation of clay(3 March 2008) — We can elect leaders with vast ambitions (foreign for McCain, domestic for Obama), but can no longer afford them.
5. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?(21 March 2008) — The Presidential campaign rolls on in the seventh year since 9/11, with the only debate about the Long War being in which nations America should fight. We see this even the speeches of the most “liberal” candidate, Senator Barack Obama.
6. President Obama, an Muslim apostate? (2 June 2008) — Nope.
7. American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties (18 May 2008) – Importance of the November 2008 political landslide.
8. Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman? (6 June 2008) — Weirdness from our next President.
9. Does America need a charismatic President? (15 July 2008)
For the articles from other sources, see About the candidates for President of the United States.