20 April 2009

I'm going where there's no depression.

I've been puzzling over the whole "Obama as Messiah" rhetoric I've been reading. I'm wondering where it started. What's the ur-text for the trope that goes under the name of Messiah, the Prophet, the One? It seems rather long-lasting for a bit of mud slung in a campaign that ended close to six months ago. Did it come out of disgruntled Hillary supporters? Did it come from disgruntled McCain supporters? Did it come from freepers?

I find it fascinating. I wonder if there's any history for this sort of demonization of President as false prophet or cult leader in the religious sense. I know with Reagan there was certainly a critique of the "actor as politician" charisma, but did it play out as religious fervor run amok? Perhaps a good place to look would be in the months following FDR's election. There are certainly similarities: a period of great financial upheaval following a long stretch of misrule, and a President with many plans for a new course.

It's fairly common of course for one side to see the other side's supporters as dupes of some kind, but it's the specifically religious aspect of this backlash that I'm interested in. I was thoroughly convinced in the summer leading up to the 2004 election that G.W. Bush wouldn't be in office come January 2005, given his already proven record of war crimes abroad and neglect at home. Sadly, I was wrong (thanks, Kerry). It never crossed my mind to think that anyone saw Bush as God, though. I figured his supporters were simply either stupid or protofascists (often the same thing) in the main.

The religious right, who sees the election of any Democrat as both a horrible event and a hopeful sign of the End Times, have long had the canned notion that the leader of a great nation (usually someone with faith in -- or at least the willingness to work with -- a world government like the UN) will rise up as the Antichrist, so I suppose for the really loonytune rightwingers Obama's just the latest in a line from Clinton and Carter who are eligible for that role. Still, the rhetoric is too pervasive for it to be the standard Tribulation Rap. Or maybe it's that the internet allows it to spread more virally. The last time a Democrat was elected on a platform of change was 1992, when social networking consisted of BBS and text-based email clients, so maybe the whole Messiah thing was there with Clinton and it just didn't get out beyond the remote armed compounds and John Birch Society meetings.

UPDATE: I was reading up on the Energy Crisis of the late 1970's and an article in The Progressive alluded to both Kennedy and Reagan's challenges to Carter's leadership as possible "new saviors," but the reference was fleeting and not an extended metaphor.

1 comment:

Washington Cube said...

I got you on the blogroll, and I want to come back and read this piece in the a.m.