.

The Anti-Cult of Personality

POSTED:

What I suspect is that the president is probably a clinical narcissist. This is not necessarily a bad condition if one maintains for oneself what the psychiatrists call an "optimal margin of illusion," that is, the margin of hope that allows you to work. But what if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms?

Marty Peretz, via Rio, 1 — Chicago, 0. The Politics Of Narcissism And General McChrystal | The New Republic.

The American empire may be in decline, but I'm beginning to think we're still at the forefront of technological innovation in some areas. Not only did we invent lots of great new financial products that almost destroyed the universe, but we seem to have developed a new social phenomenon as well — the anti-cult of personality.

The old-style, Soviet-perfected, Living Color-referenced Cult of Personality was a kind of irrational hero-worship in which the Great Leader would be credited with everything from the invention of the threshing machine to big band jazz to low crime and high fertility rates. He never served in battle, but he was a military hero whose medals clinked during parades. The essence of the Cult of Personality was its knee-jerk irrationality and its pervasiveness.

There was absolutely no reason to think Joe Stalin would know anything about poetry or literature, or agriculture or history, and no rational reason why people would want him to be an expert on these things, but millions of people loved the idea that he was an authority even there. You had to be out of your freaking mind to want to think of Stalin as the world's greatest poet, but there were such people. Lots of them.

It's sort of the same, only in reverse, with all of this anti-Obama stuff. There are plenty of rational reasons to disapprove of the Obama administration. There are plenty of curious policy decisions in his history already and he has already drawn plenty of real ideological lines in the sand that people looking to whine about something could whine about, if they so chose.

But instead of that, the opponents of Barack Obama seem determined to make a villain out of him almost solely on the basis of his completely innocent and irrelevant behaviors. Instead of bitching at him for things like giving away billions of dollars via his Public-Private Investment Program — a natural rallying cry for conservatives, you would think — they're constantly getting on his balls about stuff that has no relevance to anything at all, much less the conservative-liberal divide. It's almost as though the haters have an emotional attachment to the notion of Obama as being guilty of and responsible for everything, from bad weather to the lack of good movies outside of District 9 to the flattening out of Brandon Webb's sinker.

This Peretz piece in the New Republic is one of the weirdest examples I've seen yet. Peretz blithely recounts the episode in which Obama traveled to Copenhagen to pimp Chicago's Olympic bid, recounts the humiliating decision by the IOC to stiff Chicago first of all, then jumps in a bizarre non sequitur to the above conclusion that Obama must be a "clinical narcissist," I guess for going to Copenhagen at all.

Then he finishes with this passage, which is weird even by the already sky-high weirdness standards of our leading pundits:

Chicago will survive its disappointments and Obama will, as well. It is the other stage sets on which the president struts–like he strutted in Cairo and at the United Nations–that concern me.

I know that the president believes himself a good man. My nervy query to him is: "Does he believe America to be a good country?"

I've been reading the piece over and over again and I can't figure out that last line. Is Peretz trying to say that Obama's decision to go to Copenhagen to press for America to win an Olympic bid means he doesn't believe America is a good country? At best, what you get from going over Peretz's reasoning is that Obama's people should have done a better job of divining ahead of time that the IOC planned on snubbing them. How does he jump from there to Obama not believing America is a good country?

The Peretz piece is just a high-end version of the bizarre anti-Obama propaganda that has been circulating on the internet ever since his campaign began, consumed in mass quantities by people who apparently are incapable of even clicking through to a link. I had one person send me a link to an Infowars.com piece by Kurt Nimmo warning that Obama was going to institute mandatory national servitude. The relevant section:

Obama's vision of the American dream, however, will not consist of Americans freely choosing to volunteer to work in their communities and neighborhoods. It will be a requirement. "Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year." (Emphasis added.)

This is the first time I've ever seen someone write "emphasis added" and mean it in a literal sense — they literally added the emphasized passage. This section was preceded by a link to the actual text of the Obama-Biden President-Elect website., and that text, for those who can read English, reads as follows:
Obama and Biden will call on citizens of all ages to serve. They'll set a goal that all middle school and high school students engage in 50 hours of community service a year, and develop a plan for all college students who engage in 100 hours of community service to receive a fully-refundable tax credit of $4,000 for their education. Obama and Biden will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start… The Obama-Biden administration's volunteer initiatives are still taking shape, but take a moment now to let us know that you're interested, and we'll keep you posted on all the latest developments.

The really weird part about this stuff, and similar Alex Jonesian non-controversies like the birth-certificate issue, is — what kind of person worries about stuff like this? Are there people out there who really believe that this milquetoast Democratic Party bureaucrat is going to turn Head Start into the Komsomol? And let's just say Obama was born in Africa. He wasn't, but let's just say. Who gives a fuck? Are there not enough real problems out there for people to worry about?

It seems to me that the determination of the Obama haters to worry about irrelevancies and nonsense, and not his real policies, is evidence that they find something soothing in this villain-fantasy. Clearly, for one thing, the fantasy does not involve worrying about or even thinking about real problems. It allows people to transfer real anxiety and fear and anger over real problems into this fictional arena where the only thing to worry about is the presidency of this evil black Wizard of Oz-like figure who lies about his birthplace and has secret plans to institute a clearly-will-never-happen program of national servitude.If you're in that place mentally, you might as well be playing Dungeons and Dragons. There's no way thoughts like this can ever feel completely real, which maybe is the idea.

Maybe if you spend enough time dwelling on these imagined terrors, like the creation of Obama-friendly "civilian security squads" (the Obama-Stasi!), you might eventually forget for a few minutes that you owe $89,000 in credit card debt. Is that what's going on here?

Or maybe this is over-thinking all of this, and maybe Marty Peretz is just getting old and losing it. Either way, it's weird stuff. Even by American standards.

Prev
Taibblog Main Next

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

 
www.expandtheroom.com