Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?

Is this the day when the Obama campaign jumped the shark? Ask Wikipedia defines it, denotes the point in a TV series at which the characters or plot veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline. Shows that have “jumped the shark” are typically deemed to have passed their peak, since they have undergone too many changes to retain their original appeal, and after this point critical fans often sense a noticeable decline in the show’s quality.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Final Primary Night“, St. Paul, MN (3 June 2008) — Ending:

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because 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 to 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. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Let us hope that Senator Obama is pandering to us, as the alternative might be megalomania.

In children’s stories a Chief Shaman rules his tribe, receiving great respect and rewards. If the rains come, the Gods have shown favor on him and he may rule for another year. If the rains are inadequate then the Gods demand sacrifice…

Future historians might consider it inevitable that early 21st century American would elect as President a megalomaniac. Since WWII we have increasingly considered the President to be Chief Shaman. Every four years we, being stupid, judge him on our economy’s recent performance. If jobs are plentiful and wages good, then we re-elect him or his successor. If not, then we require sacrifice.

This is, of course, a child-like view of the world.

(1) The government does not have the necessary adequate and accurate real-time data necessary to manage the economy. We have economic statistics that are moderately only accurate months or quarters later, after several revisions.

(2) Economic science is still immature, too primitive to manage a large, complex, and rapidly evolving economy. And now one that increasingly embedded in a far larger and poorly understood global economy.

(3) If we had the data and the necessary understanding, I doubt we would have the wisdom to use them wisely. Rather than steering the economy for the benefit of all, it would be navigated for short-term benefit of narrow special interests and politically powerful elites.

Obama’s dreams go far beyond managing the economy. He speaks of social engineering and planetary geo-engineering, sciences that are to economics as economics is to arithmetic. No matter who wins, Senator McCain or Senator Obama, America may be in for a difficult four years. Is this the best we can do — or another demonstration that our political apparatus has broken?


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

  • About President Obama – useful articles
  • About America – how can we reform it?
  • Some Good News about America!Posts about President-Elect Obama:

    1.  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. 

    2.  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…

    3.  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. 

    4.  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.

    5.  American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties, 18 May 2008 – Importance of the November 2008 political landslide.

    6.  President Obama, an Muslim apostate?, 2 June 2008 — Nope.

    7.  Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?, 6 June 2008 — Weirdness from our next President.

    8.  Does America need a charismatic President?, 15 July 2008

    9.  More about charisma, by Don Vandergriff…(#2 in the “getting ready for Obama” series), 16 July 2008 — About charisma:  know it before you buy it!

    10.  Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008 — 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.

    11.  Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008 — Obama’s statement about America may be the simple truth; this may be why so many find it disturbing.

    12.  These days all American Presidents are War Presidents (part 2), 13 September 2008

    13.  Biden’s gaffes are a threat to American’s complacency!, 13 September 2008

    14.  The evil of socialism approaches!, 22 October 2008 — Economic crisis … a leftist radical President … Can socialism be avoided, or is it our destined fate?

  • 14 thoughts on “Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?”

    1. I don’t see Obama as a megalomaniac. I see him as very like JFK, much soaring rhetoric but centerish to slightly left on domestic issues and consensus on foreign policy. I think there will be some change for the better in large part because things are so bad now but I don’t expect any major changes unless circumstances force it on him. I could be wrong, he could really be a megalomaniac but he seems more like a clever opportunist which may be a good person to have trying to run things as he would be more likely to change policy if necessary rather then doggedly pursue a failing policy to the bitter end.

      Fabius Maximus replies: I agree with you, and did not seriously suggest that he was a meglamaniac.

      But this is not soaring rhetoric, and it is unlike anything I can recall Kennedy saying. This is crazy-talk. I find it disturbing that Obama says such things, and more so that so many Americans consider this reasonable. Why doesn’t the audience laugh at him?

      This suggests that political discourse has moved from soaring rhetoric grounded in realistic programs to fantasy. Perhaps we look to Washinton for entertainment, dreams, excitment — but not the arts of the stateman or political leaders.

    2. FM, may your shadow never grow less, but you need to read the actual words more closely. The first four assertions are anything but excessive… they merely state that the moment will be perceived as making a start. The operative word is ‘began.’ If you look at Obama’s stated methodology, these beginnings will occur when people like you, with your insights into the need for metaplanning and carbon management, roll up your sleeves and become part of the solution… more than you already are. In the end we all have two choices: engage and try to make this mess better, despite human limitations, or amass armaments and dry goods. Do you propose that we not even attempt to do anything about health care, to restrain corporate greed, to protect our coastal cities from inundation and take reasonable steps to prevent a global ecological disaster?

      The last few assertions are less grandiose, and are somewhat easily accomplished. Given that the war in Iraq itself did great damage to the country’s reputation, and the neocon disdain for the Constitution led to the waterboarding and domestic spying, and that the war has led to atrocities and image disasters such as Abu Ghraib… we can, for the most part, get out of that hole by the simple act of ceasing to dig. That seems anything but impossible.

      Fabius Maximus replies: I was being generous, as far harsher words would be more accurate, imo.

      To say that Obama’s Administration will “begin to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless” ignores that these have been major public policy goals for 50 years. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in pursuit of these objectives. Bush Sr. signed the largest expansion of America’s social in since the 1960’s with the Medicare drug bill.

      “the rise of the oceans began to slow” A bizarre example of AGW impacts. The change in sea levels (ex-glacial rebound) is highly disputed. Nor is it clear that global warming will change them (melting of the north polar ice does nothing; the antarctic appears to be cooling).

      “and our planet began to heal” — Reducing pollution in America has been since Richard Nixon signed the bill creating the EPA in 1970. With great success, reduced greatly since then by almost all metrics.

      “secured our nation” — From what? As if no previous President has done what they could to provide national security.

      “restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.” This is grandiose, as if our image is primarily determined by what Obama does — not the actions of the other 200 million adults. I doubt it.

    3. Per the JFK comparison above:

      I don’t see him as a new JFK in speaking styles. They are similar, but there is a big difference. Kennedy (and FDR while we’re at it) spoke in the present as in “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” and his cold war speeches about supporting friends and opposing foes.

      Obama’s speeches tend to go: 1. Things are bad 2. 3. future generations will look back on how great we were. He gets people excited about the results before knowning the hard work required to get there.

      Given the negative campaigning that would occur I have no doubt he would be reluctant to talk about hardship. No candidate would get elected promising worse times ahead which is one of the points FabiusMaximus makes: People want a god-king as a President. One who will “fix” the economy, “fix” the planet and give us all jobs.

    4. John Shreffler

      If you look at Obama’s campaign, it’s clear enough he’s a realist. Completely plotted out with correct strategic analysis with the implementation carried through. Underneath the rhetoric lies another FDR. Watch and learn.

      Fabius Maximus replies: The first might be true (I have seen experts debate this). The second is just a hope or guess stated as fact — unless you have some secret evidence.

    5. Pingback: Barack Obama News » Blog Archive » Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?

    6. Fabius — we have already elected, twice in this century, a megalomaniac to the Presidency! Your second assertion, that this is how the American people now have to talked to, is more to the point.

      If we ARE in a cycle of global warming, no single man or nation or policy can stop it. The issue is, if we are still on the near side of the tipping point, we need to act now.

      Your remarks on government’s inability to know enough to manage the economy are right on; however that is not to say that they haven’t been effective in intervening on behalf of big business and finance. My point is, if it’s ok for the public to bail out Bear Stearns, why not have the public, through its government, finance their own health-care, protect union rights, protect the environment, etc?

      Fabius Maximus replies: These policy discussions are interesting, but not relevant to my point about his speech. That he talks to us in this manner, and we take it seriously, suggests to me that something is broken in the political machinery.

      Just to take one point: who says that we should not protect the environment? This becomes public policy question when we discuss specifics about how and to what extent. Life is about trade-offs. If the American people become incapable of understanding that, we are no longer capable of self-government.

    7. Fabius, take off the blinders and stop being so analytical. Obama’s speeches are intended to excite, to invigorate, to cause one to look toward positive government measures. Obama’s ideas are aimed to counter the destructive policies of the Shrub’s presidency, not to create some kind of huge change from the last 50-60 years of governance. The facts are that the Bush presidency has:

      1> reduced health care options and allowed for increased costs to elderly and uninsured, and done little to nothing to address the millions of jobs lost on his watch.

      2> loosened environmental regulations and resolutely ignored, nay, shot down any attempt to even discuss global warming and address industry’s contribution to the problem

      3> made no attempt to come to resolution or even suggest an endstate for the conflicts in the Middle East, and

      4> radicalized our position as the leader of the free world and in fact jeopardized it futher through unilateral military and diplomatic missions that have largely failed.

      If you somehow doubt that America’s image on the international stage has not been diminished, I am sure that there are lots and lots of polls tracking EU, Asian, and African nation perceptions of the US leadership. And if you think that DHS is “securing” our nation with its ridiculous networks of radiation and biological detectors and its heavy oversight of chemical facilities, then you are sorely mistaken.

      Obama’s using language that, as you state it, children can understand. It fails when overly analytic minds, such as yours, tries to conceive of President Obama and his staff trying to accomplish everything in one term or trying to change the course of American history. He is not – what he is doing is healing the nation from eight years of oppressive and backwards policy.

      Would you rather use Prez Bush’s words, “Is our children learning?” Oh yes, much more presidential…
      Fabius Maximus replies: I completely agree with everything you say. Esp this: “Obama’s using language that, as you state it, children can understand.”

      That he talks to us as if we were children terrifies me. Does he believe we are children, needed the guidance of a wise leader — an inherently totalitarian viewpoint? Or has experience taught him that we are like children?

      Which is worse? Either way we have come a long way from the Federalist Papers (written for farmers, craftsman, and shopkeepers) and the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

    8. Sure Barack Obama uses some high-flown rhetoric, but what do you expect? When George W Bush was in the same position, he spoke of compassionate conservatism and “no child left behind.” Bill Clinton launched into a “bridge to the 21st century.” Right now, he needs to inspire crowds of people to pick him in the polling booth. Once he’s in office, God-willing, he can come down to earth and get into the nitty-gritty of day-to-day operations of government.
      Fabius Maximus replies: I agree. How sad that the best 21st century America can do is hope our new President’s rhetoric does not indicate a delusional mind at work.

    9. This is the sort of thing that worries me.

      Is Obama an enlightened being?“, Mark Morford, Columnist, San Fancisco Chronicle (6 June 2008) — “Spiritual wise ones say: This sure ain’t no ordinary politician. You buying it?.” Excerpt:

      Barack Obama isn’t really one of us. Not in the normal way, anyway.

      This is what I find myself offering up more and more in response to the whiners and the frowners and to those with broken or sadly dysfunctional karmic antennae – or no antennae at all – to all those who just don’t understand and maybe even actively recoil against all this chatter about Obama’s aura and feel and MLK/JFK-like vibe.

      To them I say, all right, you want to know what it is? The appeal, the pull, the ethereal and magical thing that seems to enthrall millions of people from all over the world, that keeps opening up and firing into new channels of the culture normally completely unaffected by politics?

      No, it’s not merely his youthful vigor, or handsomeness, or even inspiring rhetoric. It is not fresh ideas or cool charisma or the fact that a black president will be historic and revolutionary in about a thousand different ways. It is something more. Even Bill Clinton, with all his effortless, winking charm, didn’t have what Obama has, which is a sort of powerful luminosity, a unique high-vibration integrity.

    10. Obama has a “high-vibration integrity,” better check his background. The Manchurian Candidate will bring an American style Marxism to this country that will do more harm to Western Civilization than Marx, Engels, and Lenin ever dreamed.

      American people don’t really know the definition of CHANGE, and if they vote for this man they will have sold their vote for a mess of potage and the loss of their freedom.
      Fabius Maximus replies: Evidence, please. We all have our own “high-vibration guesses”, which seldom come to pass.

    11. maxine schnall

      Obama is a frightful, self-aggrandizing megalomaniac who is often compared to the idealistic Robert Kennedy only because of his bastardized Kennedyesque prose (Obama’s speechwriters have admitted that they studied Robert Kennedy’s speeches and adapted them to Obama’s imitation Martin Luther King delivery). Obama is a textbook narcissist: outwardly charming, but with an overwhelming sense of entitlement and addicted to the adoration of others but with no concern for them other than the uses to which he can exploit them for his own purposes. The strange contradiction between his charismatic, lofty speechifying before huge, adoring crowds and his halting, uncomfortable tongue-tied peformance in one-on-one situations is revealing. His constant flip-flopping on issues–anti-Nafta to out-of-work Americans but wink, wink to Canadians; all-Israeli Jerusalem to the Jewish audience, but a partitioned holy city to the Palestinians, etc. is typical of someone who has no commitment to a solid core of values and will say anything to get elected, exactly the criticism he leveled at Hillary Clinton. The only difference between Obama and any other ordinary, self-serving pol is his teleprompter. His rise to power is a shining example of the audacity of hype.
      Fabius Maximus replies: I would be impressed with this if you could cite evidence to support your claims. The most serious problem with Obama, IMO, is not that we know so many bad things about him — as you alledge — but that we know so little about him.

    12. The first blogs I read here on climate change were interesting, just to see the nature of the current dialog here, but it is painfully obvious this is simply a Republican party-line site. I suppose this comment will be deleted shortly after I post it, but if not I’ll gain a little respect for FM’s understanding of the processes of cognitive dissonance.
      Fabius Maximus replies: This looks like a confident assertion contradicted by even a brief look at the FM site.

      (1) Let’s take a look at the site!

      (a) Articles about the 2008 Presidential Campaign. Look at all those critical posts about McCain (wasn’t he the Republican candidate?). And the posts about Gov Palin (Alaska – R) were even more critical.

      (b) Articles about America – How can we reform it?. Section 4, about politics. Some of these articles don’t fit Gary’s theory. Like “R.I.P., G.O.P. – a well-deserved end” (7 November 2008).

      (c) Articles about the Iraq & Afghanistan Wars. There are 94 of them, every one hostile to these wars. Gary, do you know something about the Republican Party the rest of us do not?

      (d) Articles about the Bush Administrations efforts to build support for a strike at Iran: 20 of them, and they look quite critical of this Bush program.

      (e) Articles about the financial crisis, all 78 of them. Gary, I know you are real confident about these things, but some of these look a bit critical of the Bush Administration.
      * “Slowly a few voices are raised about the pending theft of taxpayer money“, 20 September 2008
      * “The Paulson Plan will buy assets cheap, just as all good cons offer easy money to the marks“, 30 September 2008
      * “A reminder – the TARP program is just theft“, 24 November 2008

      (2) ” I suppose this comment will be deleted shortly after I post it”

      If you had actually read much on this site before writing about it, you would have seen that the comments are to a large extent critical of my posts. Many are openly hostile. That might have suggested to you that such things are not deleted.

      The site has a clear and simple comment policy. Comments are edited (not deleted) only for violations — such as personal attacks, commercial or grossly off-topic content.

    13. Yes, Fabius, 1000 apologies for my prodding. After I posted, I realized my comment about this being a Republican apologist site was quite wrong, even before reading your reply. I commend you for your independent thinking, which I had apparently taken an inordinately small sample of. And you’re quite welcome for the daily dose of humor that gave you.

      Unfortunately, I suspect the faux pas will instill even more hostility (read: cognitive dissonance) against the message that I’ll now get into since it appears there is indeed independent thinking going on and that it’s not just party line drivel here.

      I will go into the reasons I believe that the office of Chief Shaman is a little more than just a shaman.

      1. You’re right, I think most of the people vote for a prez the same way they vote for a shaman… I’ll immediately concede that.

      2. Obama’s a megalomaniac? Yea, he is promising an awful lot. More than most. But show me a president who wasn’t a megalomaniac, and I’ll show you a bridge that is for sale. One exception: George Washington did not want to be president. The other founding fathers pushed him on it, very, very hard.

      3. Can he make good on all of it? No, but the matter of US soldiers dying in Iraq is easy to control. Also, I certainly wouldn’t call the economy as poorly uncontrollable as the weather. Global warming/weather is several orders of magnitude more complex. There is no direct lever for controlling the behavior of irresponsible individuals in the economy, I will concede. However, there are forms of established strong if indirect control of the economy:

      a. the SEC does a fair to moderate job of keeping the stock market in line

      b. mortgage backed securities (which exploded visciously) were not regulated like stocks, and there have been warnings (N. Carolina and Iowa attorneys general) to the Bush administration (through a guy appointed by Clinton). People knew it was coming. Bush is only executive, but he certainly can raise the flag to Congress!

      c. the Blackout of 2003 was basically caused by deregulation, if you look at the GAO root cause report. (source)

      d. The Fed Reserve can and is cushioning the blow of this bust by printing money. Inflation is not as bad as a full blown recession.

      e. Governmental policy has a profound and sometimes direct effect on employment. NAFTA and Most Favored Trading Nation status with China have, indeed, created a great sucking sound like Reform shaman Ross Perot predicted, as manufacturing jobs go overseas.

      Witness the Big 3’s rough time lately (I left automotive recently, fortunately on a voluntary basis before the crash). Note that not joining would have had other effects, and there is also the matter of where things will go in 20-30 years now that we have gone that road. This shaman predicts better for us AND the trading partners like good ol’ macroeconomics in the production possibility frontier, though we can’t measure the road we didn’t take. I’m leaving out the political reasons trading with “Communist” China is a bad idea for this discussion.

      So Obama may have been voted for as a shaman by many constituents, like just about all presidents, holding a very impressive rain dance and making the unknowing people feel good. But part of being a shaman (historical context) always was about being able to predict better than most. And the difference is, the president actually has some levers on the economy – unlike the shamans hoping to throw a rain dance party at the right time.

      Sorry again, Mr. Maximus, for my presumptuousness, and let’s get down to the business of being armchair QBs so we can wield our pens (and votes) properly.
      Fabius Maximus replies: Does anyone disagree with you? Does anyone believe that the “office of Chief Shaman {the President} is just a shaman”? I do not see your point, or to what you are providing a rebuttal.

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