Worth Readingby Ali Sina
I was not impressed by Sen. Barack Obama after the first time I saw him. At first I was excited to see a black candidate. He looked youthful, spoke well, appeared to be confident â€“ a wholesome presidential package. It is so instinctive for most people to want to see blacks succeed. It is as if all humanity is carrying a collective guilt for what the ancestors of blacks endured. However, despite my initial interest in him, I was soon put off, not just because of his shallowness but also because there was an air of haughtiness in his demeanor that was unsettling. His posture and his body language were louder than his empty words.
It is surreal to see the level of hysteria in his admirers. This phenomenon is unprecedented in American politics. Women scream and swoon during his speeches. They yell and shout to Obama, "I love you." Never did George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt. Martin Luther King Jr. or Ronald Reagan arouse so much raw emotion. Despite their achievements, none of them was raised to the rank of Messiah. The Illinois senator has no history of service to the country. He has done nothing outstanding except giving promises of change and hyping his audience with hope. It's only his words, not his achievements that is causing this much uproar.
When cheering for someone turns into adulation, something is wrong. Excessive adulation is indicative of a personality cult. The cult of personality is often created when the general population is discontent. A charismatic leader can seize the opportunity and project himself as an agent of change and a revolutionary leader. Often, people, tired of the status quo, do not have the patience to examine the nature of the proposed change. All they want is change. During 1979, when the Iranians were tired of the dictatorial regime of the late Shah, they embraced Khomeini, not because they wanted Islam, but because he promised them change. The word in the street was, "anything is better than the Shah." They found their error when it was too late.
Khomeini promised there would be separation between religion and state. He lied and they did not care to look into his past to see whether he actually meant what he said. Had they done that they would have seen that he always believed in caliphate and the rule of Islam. People gobbled everything he told them uncritically. They wanted to believe and therefore closed their eyes so they did not see what they did not want to see. Eyes welled when he spoke. Masses poured into the streets by the millions, screamed and shouted to greet him. People kissed his pictures. Some saw his portrait reflected on the Moon.
Listening to Obama ... it harkens back to when I was younger and I used to watch Khomeini, how he would excite the crowd and they'd come to their feet and scream and yell.
I was amused to hear a listener calling Fox News Radio's Tom Sullivan Show, (Feb 11) and saying: "Listening to Obama ... it harkens back to when I was younger and I used to watch those deals with Hitler, how he would excite the crowd and they'd come to their feet and scream and yell." ( Videos of Hitler's speeches are available on Youtube. They are worth a look.)
Equating anyone to Hitler by highlighting the similarities between the two is a logical fallacy. This fallacy, known as reductio ad Hitlerum is a variety of both questionable cause and association fallacy. I believe it is wrong to trivialize the holocaust and the horrors of Nazism by comparing our opponents to Hitler.
However, Hitler, prior to coming to power had not killed anyone. He was insane, but few could see that. Far from it, he was seen as a gifted man and hailed as the savior of Germany. He was admired throughout the world. He appealed to the masses of people â€“ the working class and particularly to women, and did not just inspire them, he "elevated" them. Thousands rallied to listen to his passionate speeches. They shed tears when he spoke. Women fainted during his speeches. To Germans, he was not a politician, but a demigod, a messiah. They envisioned him as truly a magical figure of majestic wisdom and glory. They worshiped him. They surrendered their wills to him. He restored their national pride. He projected himself as their savior. He ran on the platform of change and hope. Change he delivered all right, but hopes he shattered.
I think it is fair to say that the Illinois senator puts the same passion in his speeches that Hitler used to put in his, and he evokes similar raw emotions in his audience. This much we can agree. Okay, we can also agree that both Hitler and Charlie Chaplin wore square moustaches. So what?
The Cult of Personality
There are other disturbing similarities. Like Hitler and Khomeini, Obama also likes to create a cult of personality around himself. As stated above, when a large number of a population is discontent, a charismatic leader can seize the opportunity and present himself as the agent of change. He can create a cult of Personality by associating himself with the idea of change. He convinces everyone that things are terrible and a drastic change is needed. He then casts himself as the only person who can deliver this revolutionary transformation that everyone is waiting for. He portrays himself as a benevolent guide; the only one who cares about people and their needs and can pull them out of their alleged misery. In reality, they have no clue about how to address the problem - have no experience, no track record. But they are convincing because they are self assured.
These revolutionary leaders need foes. They exaggerate the problems. They make everything look gloomy. They lie, cheat and slander their opponents while casting themselves as the saviors of the nation. Hitler chose the Jews to blame for everything that was wrong in Germany. Khomeini made the Shah and his westernization plans his scapegoats. Obama has chosen President George W. Bush to smear. He can rally people around himself, as long as he can instill in them the dislike of Bush and equate his rival, McCain to him. Sigmund Freud wrote, "It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness" (Civilization and Its Discontents).
A cult of personality is excessive adulation, admiration and exaltation of a charismatic leader, often with unproven merits or achievements. It is similar to hero worship except that it is created specifically for political leaders.