Christopher Beam : Obama’s Cocky Messianism


Richard Moore

Obama¹s Cocky Messianism

NASHUA ­ There was a moment during Barack Obama¹s rally at Nashua North High 
School on Saturday when I thought, Wow, Iowa has gone to his head.

Inside the gym, packed to capacity with 2600 people, Obama was describing to the
crowd how his speeches generally work: ³At the end‹or maybe somewhere in the 
middle‹a shaft of light comes through and hits you and you experience an 
epiphany: I have to vote for Barack.²

Obama has attracted Jesus comparisons since announcing his candidacy. He¹s been 
described as the party¹s savior. A Chicago art gallery displayed a sculpture 
depicting Obama crowned with a neon halo. Slate¹s Timothy Noah kept tabs on 
these and other revelations in the "Obama Messiah Watch."

But now, with Iowa as his witness, Obama is he starting to sound like he 
believes the prophecies, too. The ³epiphany² line was a joke‹but he also kind of
meant it. Because he¹s loose on the stump, self-deprecating yet cocky, Obama 
gets away with appropriating the language of his own deification. He mocks it, 
but at the same time reinforces it. It¹s hard to be humble when your overflow 
room is overflowing.

There were other moments of self-puffery. At one point, he introduced a 
volunteer as the chair of ³Obamans for‹² He caught himself. ³Nashuans for 
Obama.² However innocently, Obama had just bestowed himself with fame¹s highest 
honor: his very own adjectival form.

Then there was his refrain: ³In three days¹ time Š² Politicians always go out of
their way to mention the specific date of the election‹³Go vote for me on Jan. 
8²‹just to pound the date into dumb voters¹ heads. But he repeated the phrase so
much it started to sound like a rosary. ³In three days¹ time,² he said, voters 
would have the chance to make history. ³In three days¹ time,² they could send a 
message to Washington that the old days are over. Not just ³in three days² or 
³three days from now.² ³In three days¹ time,² the rock will be rolled away and 
lo, the tomb will be empty.

Obama¹s speaking style, with its preacherly repetitions and rhythms, is nothing 
new. But the content of his speech‹if you stop and actually listen to it‹is 
aggressively vapid. ³This change thing is catching on,² he told people. He¹s 
running, as he always says, because of ³what Dr. King called the 'fierce urgency
of now' .² Here¹s the closest he came to defining ³hope²: It¹s ³imagining, then 
working for, then righting for what didn¹t seem possible before.² But in the 
final days before the primary, when the three top Democrats have such similar 
platforms, you don¹t win by reading position papers. You win with catharsis.

After watching the speech, Matt Dibella, 20, from Nashua, said he was initially 
undecided. I asked who he¹s for now. ³Obama,² he said. ³Because I just saw him.²
That seems to be the way it works for many young people: To see him is to be for

Others fear the messiah analogy is a little too apt. ³The thing I¹m worried 
about is that he¹s going to get shot,² said a woman from Boston who preferred 
not to give her name. ³What he¹s been saying scares people.² You hear this idea 
all over, particularly among African-Americans in the South, often as a reason 
to vote for someone else.

In other ways, Obama doesn¹t act messianic‹just cocky. He laughs at his own 
jokes, a staccato ³heh² that sounds naked when spoken into a mic in a large 
auditorium. He strays from the script as other candidates never would. A quip 
about ³my cousin Dick Cheney² turns into a tangent about how, ³When they do 
these genealogical surveys, you hope they say you¹re related to somebody cool. 
Abraham Lincoln or Willie Mays or something. But Dick Cheney: That¹s a letdown.²

But the driving message of his speech was, See what Iowa did? You can do it, 
too. By the end, the crowd was erupting, signs were waving, and if you looked 
real close, you could see the ceiling windows emitting a thousand little golden 
shafts of light.

Published Sunday, January 06, 2008 11:35 AM by Christopher Beam
Filed under: Barack Obama, Jesus

newslog archives:

Escaping the Matrix:

The Phoenix Project:

rkm blog: "How We the People can change the world":

The Post-Bush Regime: A Prognosis

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