Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Obamania, or a civic religion revival?
Kate Zernike's Week in Review essay about the place of charisma in American politics was quite interesting, especially this section discussing the way charismatic presidents revive America's "civil religion":
By any definition, the charismatic leader emerges at a time of crisis or national yearning, and perhaps a vacuum in that nation's institutions. Mr. Schlesinger wrote in 1960 of a "new mood in politics," with people feeling "that the mood which has dominated the nation for a decade is beginning to seem thin and irrelevant." There was, he wrote, "a mounting dissatisfaction with the official priorities, a deepening concern with our character and objectives as a nation."
That might well describe the climate Obama supporters feel now.
Alan Wolfe, the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Political Life at Boston College, says Mr. Obama is simply — understandably — making an emotional appeal to those yearnings. "Politics is about policy, but it's also about giving people some kind of sense of participating in a common venture with their fellow citizens," Mr. Wolfe said.
Philosophers call it "civil religion," using the language of religion and elevation to talk about your country. A classic example is Ronald Reagan's summoning of the "city on a hill." That, Professor Wolfe said, was the parallel Mr. Obama was hinting at when he talked about Reagan as a transformative leader.
"A soft civil religion is something our country desperately needs at a time of deep partisanship," Mr. Wolfe said. "He wants to go back to the Reagan years as a Democrat, with Democratic policies."
Here's an example: A 21-year-old reader wrote to Andrew Sullivan last week about the surprising emotion he or she felt at an Obama rally:
I read more than I should about politics and US history and am always confused as to how Americans can love their president so. Intellectually I understand why Americans love(d) Lincoln and the Roosevelts but I never felt why they did.
Andrew, people my age are too young to remember Bill Clinton. All we have is George W. Bush. The office of the President to us is a mockery. We don't link President Bush to concepts such as leader, we link it to ignorance and idiocy. Most people my age have never felt proud of our President. We grew up on the Daily Show, we only know how to make fun of him and mock him.
I attended an Obama rally a few days ago and was amazed at how filled up with emotion I was. Halfway through his speech, other 21 year olds just like that filled the Hall were screaming their heads off, waving banners, and grinning. Everyone was giddy, hell even I was giddy. I was smiling and chanting along to "Yes We Can." I didn't know what that feeling was because I had never felt it. But then I realized it. It was pride. I was proud of Obama.
Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 19 February 2008 at 8:03 AM