“Cult” Bursts Into the Political Lexicon

When you type “cult and Obama” in Google, you get 430,000 hits.

Think about that. That’s remarkable, because “cult” is darn strong language, and a term I don’t remember ever being applied to a political campaign before this year. Yet, now the use of the term is absolutely rampant.

If a foreign visitor oberserving American politics heard the use of this term in a political context, he or she might turn to a dictionary, and discover that a cult is “generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.”

As unusual as the Obama campaign is, is that really an apt description for it?

The Obama campaign seems to have been given the title by his opponents because opponents’ crowds are much smaller and less enthusiastic than Obama’s, and a disproportionate number of the attendees at Obama’s rallies are not the partisan activists who typically populate political rallies.

But really, just how different are Obama’s supporters? With the exception of the occasional rally fainter – and what is up with that? — they aren’t the kind of glassy eyes automotons we associate with followers of Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon or David Koresh. But there are many more participants than usual, and they aren’t all familiar faces to the political hacks. Perhaps that is the part that feels so “bizarre” and threatening to the kingmaker class.

A confession: Hi, my name is Joe, and I’m an Obamaniac. I don’t go to rallies or have Obama posters in my bedroom. I don’t write love notes to Barrack (I swear, he doesn’t even know I’m alive). I don’t faint when he comes on the telly. I do think oversells his ability to bring people together, and has an arrogant streak to rival his opponents. But I do think he’s right on most issues and is easily the most gifted Persuader-in-Chief of my generation. So I have a bumper sticker on the minivan, and I actually give a damn this year. A pretty big damn actually.

So does that make me a cultist? Am I only a normal American if, to borrow the country music lyric, “my give a damn is busted,” and I subsequently leave the political game to the political regulars?

The Google search indicates that the pundits view it as bizarre when a leader inspires previously under-active Americans to greater levels of participation. But really, is that reaction an indictment of Obama and his supporters, or of the sorry state of democratic expectations?

— Loveland tax prep kind

6 thoughts on ““Cult” Bursts Into the Political Lexicon

  1. Hornseth says:

    Interesting point. You’re right in that it does seem to be dismissive and belittling, now that you mention it, as if the appeal somehow can’t be legitimate and must be classfied another way.

  2. jloveland says:

    Are charisma and substance automatically mutually exclusive?

    If you listen to an Obama victory speech on election night or a speech to 20,000 people, it’s true you’re not going to hear a policy seminar. That’s probably not the best time to bust out the old ten-point plan. And the more Obama wins, the more people see him in this setting.

    But if you want policy substance, about 3 minutes on Google will make all but the wonkiest among us overwhelmed by policy detail.


    I understand people who disagree with his policy positions, but not people who say he lacks policy positions or hides his policy positions. That position lacks substance.

  3. Jesse says:

    my Oxford dictionary lists ‘cult’: 1. ritualistic religious system; 2. devotion to a person or thing; b. popular fashion

    [cultivate is the next word..interesting…and then ‘culture’]

    “But if you want policy substance, about 3 minutes on Google will make all but the wonkiest among us overwhelmed by policy detail”

    i think that’s the problem, and many of his ‘supporters’ don’t know what they are. all i ever hear is: i think Obama can bring the country together and give america a good image in the world again. or…. finally we can have a good health care system…or of course the race/gender issue, and i won’t go there because that doesn’t address policy or law.

    my problem is that Obama does not address the heart of the issues
    and my experience is that many of his supporters can’t hit the nail on the head either.

    so i agree to a certain extent with the word cult, as in, a “popular fashion”

  4. Jesse says:

    and that’s what obama is doing, cultivating,

    ahh….”the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader”


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