Maybe the US hasn’t quite fallen into the “cult of personality” trap

I was heartened today to see that President Obama’s approval rate has dropped significantly.  That’s not just because I think Obama has been a lousy president, destroying the economy at home and substantially interfering with our relations and security abroad.  It’s also because it’s a healthy sign that Obama’s approval can drop.

We’ve often talked about the cult of personality the mainstream media built around Obama.  He was the “hope” and the “change”, he was the “magic negro”, and he was the politician whom photographers loved to capture with a halo image around his head:

Obama halo

This type of adulation for a politician — a “cult of personality” — is terribly dangerous.  It overrides democratic checks and balances, and leads to tyranny.  Scary stuff.

But here’s the good news, from a Weekly Standard article about Italian fascism in the 1930s and 1940s.  (The article is behind a pay wall, but you can currently get a 30-day free trial of the Weekly Standard, which I highly recommend. ).  Italian fascism has gone unexamined until recently because Italians, by overthrowing Mussolini, kept their own records (and hid them).  Now that the records are finally becoming open for analysis, they show that Italians strongly supported Mussolini, and that they did so long after his policies were shown to be disastrous.  This is normal for totalitarian regimes built around a demagogue:

Charismatic leaders are not immediately blamed for the failures of their regimes: “If Stalin only knew” was a commonplace during the worst years of the Soviet era. The ruling party is blamed—whether Communist or Fascist—as are underlings, but the supreme leader is long given a pass.

Thankfully, according to the latest polls, Obama is not getting a pass.  As long as the media kept a tight control on information, Obama got a pass because ordinary voters were ignorant about is failures.  Now that the dike has broken, though, revealing Obama’s many failures as a leader at home and abroad, Americans are turning on him.  If this had been a true cult of personality, his poll drops probably wouldn’t have happened.

I’m going to do something pretty outrageous for me here and recommend an HBO show.  VICE is an investigative reporting show.  It comes from a strong Leftist slant, but even Leftists have a hard time supporting North Korea (never mind that North Korea is the logical end point of personality-driven, socialist statism).  Anyway, VICE did an episode about Dennis Rodman’s visit to North Korea and it is fascinating.  You can see photos and clips here.  Obama’s tried to create a cult of personality, but he’s no Kim Jong Un, for which mercy we should all give thanks.

The cult of personality trumped ordinary considerations

I do believe that vote fraud had an effect on this election, although I don’t know if it was big enough in swing states to change the outcome.  Abe Greenwald’s theory makes a lot more sense when it comes to explaining how conservatives could have so completely misread the election outcome:

Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace. Obama got reelected because he enjoys a degree of personal popularity disconnected from his record. No modern president has ever been returned to office with employment figures and right-track-wrong-track numbers as poor as those Obama has achieved.

Obama couldn’t run on his record, which proved to be no problem—Americans didn’t vote on his record. According to exit polls, 77 percent of voters said the economy is bad and only 25 percent said they’re better off than they were four years ago. But since six in ten voters claimed the economy as their number one issue, it’s clear this election wasn’t about issues at all.

The president’s reelection is not evidence of a new liberal America, but rather of the illogical and confused experience that is infatuation. For multiple reasons, Americans continue to have a crush on Barack Obama even after his universally panned first term. No longer quite head over heels, they’re at the “I know he’s no good for me, but I can change him” phase. Whatever this means, it surely doesn’t suggest conservatives would be wise to move closer to policies that aren’t even popular among Obama supporters.

(Read more here.)

What we saw on election day was the continuing power of the old media.  Indeed, it is flush with power.  This year, the old media abandoned any pretense of objectivity and still shaped an election.  That’s quite something.  For decades, the old media hid its partisanship, believing that doing so was the only way to sway the American people.  This year, it learned that it could be hyper-partisan because it is still the gatekeeper.

We in the blogosphere were deluding ourselves about our reach and ability to change the dialog.  By ignoring some stories (Benghazi, for example, or the scope of Sandy’s disaster) and by hyping other story’s (Romney’s offshore accounts or dog driving), it kept Obama in office despite the fact that he has failed to fulfill every promise he made and left the country in a perilous state.

I know that the economic numbers were creeping up ever so slightly before the election (improved stock market, slightly improved job numbers), but those would have been irrelevant if the press had been hostile to Obama.  This was indeed a “cult of personality” election, as I see regularly on my Facebook page.

There certainly were issues that excited Democrat voters — the elite voted on social issues grounds (lady parts and gay marriage being the things they trumpet most triumphantly) and the 47% vote to keep their government benefits — but those issues were of paramount importance to them because the media colluded with the Obama administration to hide from the public the scope of the coming economic disaster.  Had the American people better understood the economy, the elite might have decided that lady parts and gay marriage could wait a while, and the 47% might have realized that no government money means no government benefits.

Here’s the good news, though:  Next election, the media doesn’t have Obama to elevate any more.  We won’t have Romney, who is a a truly nice man, but whom the media demonized to the proportions of Sarah Palin, who is a truly nice woman.  The press will still demonize the Republican candidate, but I’m not certain they’ll have anyone to anoint as the second coming.  Neither Hillary nor Elizabeth Warren lend themselves to a personality cult.  This hagiography worked once with Obama.  I doubt it will work twice with someone else.  The American population might be in a “fool me twice, shame on you” frame of mind.

Or, of course, Obama could bring in a new Golden Age in the next four years, in which case all of us will have to retire our animus and rejigger our political views.  Currently, I’m not holding my breath on that one.