Obama's Unusual Adulators- the enigma
This story has just broken:
Barack Obama has resigned his 20 year membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in the aftermath of inflammatory remarks by his longtime pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and more recent fiery remarks at the church by another minister.
...Comments by Wright have inflamed racial tensions and posed an unwanted problem for Obama, front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, as he seeks to wrap up the nomination.
More recently, racially charged remarks from the same pulpit by another pastor, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, has kept the controversy alive and proved the latest thorn in the side of Obama.
I have been following the Obama campaign's dramatic vicissitudes for several months now. In the process, I've learned to respect and like him. He is as decent a person as he seems. As one point I likened him to Prince Hal, but I think he is probably more like that other much more famous Shakespearean prince, Hamlet. Obama and Hamlet share two defining traits: they are both deeply intellectual and irresolute. They cannot make a clear cut decision, and therefore they cannot act.
So now Obama has finally acted. And it took some outrageous performances and expressions to force him to make this decision.
I wonder if there might be found, in this Hamletic streak of his, a possible answer to the question that keeps nagging at me: why do they keep supporting him, in spite of all the renouncing and rejecting that he has done, publicly? What do they think they know, or understand about this man?If we take Sunstein's advocacy for all that it is worth, the radical factions who support Obama in spite of his declarative positions are dead wrong in their estimation of his ability to make statements he does not mean. It is a strange kind of endorsement, when the fans of a presidential hopeful are predicating their support upon the premise that their favourite candidate must be lying when he articulates positions which are contrary to their own inclinations.
Andrei S. Markovits and Jeff Weintraub have noted the same, here:
Put bluntly, the core of Obama's message would appear to be completely incompatible with the proclaimed beliefs of many of his most ardent progressive supporters... So what gives?
Three partial explanations, not mutually exclusive, strike us as plausible. First, the fact that Obama is African-American probably helps to make his appeals to American civic patriotism (along with his religious imagery) more acceptable in progressive circles than they would be coming from a white candidate. Second, some of Obama's supporters--and critics--probably assume that all this stuff is just empty campaign rhetoric that Obama doesn't really believe himself. We suspect they're wrong about that.
But the most interesting fact is that many of Obama's progressive supporters don't simply accept or tolerate his message. They are moved, thrilled, and inspired by it. As Gorski perceptively noted, this response suggests that Obama's message speaks to profound hopes, concerns, and emotions that--for good or ill--run deeper than explicit beliefs and positions. We hope so. For decades progressive politics in America has too often crippled itself by unilaterally surrendering the discourse of national community and the common good--and, with it, some of the key animating principles of active democratic citizenship... If Obama can help make these notions respectable again for self-styled progressives, that alone would be a valuable contribution.
So the bottom line is, as far as I can understand, Obama's appeal is emotional and even irrational. While his intellectual formulations are at variance with the actual beliefs of many of his admirers, it is the feelings he stirs up in them that account for their support. It is the feelings he inspires that decide, not the ideas, thoughts, policies, he advocates. Is he aware of this contradiction? Does he realize that what is being described in this article is a condition of being in love, where the emotion overpowers and mutes the capability to rationalize, compare, deliberate, decide?
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Obama's Unusual Adulators- the enigma