Swans Commentary » swans.com February 11, 2008  



Obamania: Curb Your Enthusiasm


by Charles Marowitz





(Swans - February 11, 2008)   The pro-Obama video making the rounds of the Internet at the moment is entitled "Yes We Can" attributed to "Will I Am," which I assume is some kind of inspirational nickname for those avidly supporting the candidacy of the senator from Chicago.

It is a fervent, hypnotic chant assuring its listeners that change is definitely in the offing if the right forces combine to bring it about. Obama's words are counterpointed by the incessant and hypnotic drone, "YES WE CAN" and there are shots of various celebrities from the world of entertainment individually intoning the message to those who may have any doubts that Obama can effect the social and political reversals he has so eloquently described in debates and stump speeches throughout the country.

The din of that mesmerizing chant is highly reminiscent of the kind of pro-Nazi collective mania we associate with the Nuremberg Rallies; an attempt by the National Socialist Party and its charismatic leader to sway the general populace towards the marvels the Third Reich would bring to a troubled Germany.

I don't mean to suggest there is any polemical resemblance to Barack Obama and the insane leader who conquered Europe, murdering millions of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals in the process. There is none. Obama is a civil, sensitive, intelligent, and, to many, inspiring candidate whose greatest asset is his desire to dismantle the brutal partisanship that has crippled America almost as long as there have been political parties competing for electoral office.

My objection to the video is that it resorts to whipping up a kind of emotional frenzy for a deputed leader rather than applying ratiocination and cool-headed evaluation to determine whether or not that leader's message may well be the most salutary in the upcoming election.

By turning Obama into "a mystical force" who is rushing to a Meeting with Destiny, his supporters are threatening a process that should be rooted in objective analysis and cool-headed evaluation. Too much is at stake in the next election, too many horrors have been unleashed in the land for us to suggest that some avatar has arrived who will make everything "magically right"; will transform the brutalizing Present into a benevolent and congenial Future.

It is true (as I've been suggesting two weeks ago) that character counts for more than policy pronouncements in a political election, but unless we apply our unshakeable, Yankee-bred skepticism to each of the candidates and the ballyhoo of the electoral process, we will be swayed like audiences are in the theatre -- another instance in which contrived emotions are marshaled in order to produce a specific state of mind and a certain semblance of character in those to whom they are directed. Here politics, like the theater, is rigged in very much the same way in order to achieve a premeditated effect. It may look spontaneous but it has been assiduously contrived.

If we turn up for Obama on election day, it mustn't be because we believe there is some inescapable, messianic desire that must be fulfilled by placing the tenor of his idealism against his ability to operate that elaborate political machine, which, though he would like to transform it, is an immensely powerful juggernaut sustained by deeply entrenched forces that have a vested interest in keeping it just the way it is. Should he try to re-tool that machine, the antagonists that he would encounter are formidable. They comprise some of the wealthiest and most impregnable corporations in America and they will not be joining in the chorus of "Yes We Can," but quietly murmuring, "No They Won't." To underestimate the forces already massing against an Obama victory, we, the voters, should be considering, as finitely as we can, the strengths and weaknesses of what an Obama presidency would imply. And we should be doing that now -- during the months leading up to the election and in a critical and probing frame of mind in order to gage what counterforce can be mustered to rout the demagogues who have winkled their way into every branch of government and industry reducing a democracy into an oligarchy and one that will fight to the death to retain its privileges and its profits.

The Obama video and its worked-up crowd mania had the same appalling reaction on me as Bush's final State of the Union address when a great phalanx of cheering Republicans rose up regularly (like spasmodic erections) to cheer some sickening conservative mantra like "No tax increases" and "The Iraqi situation is definitely improving." At moments such as these, human beings were transformed into marionettes and their fusillades of applause into signal reactions that belied their humanity. They could just as well have been shouting "Heil Hitler!" What is unnerving about such uniform outbursts of aggressive enthusiasm is the suspicion that politicians were cajoling themselves into a solidarity that belies their own individuality and makes them appear like brainwashed androids. The maniacal insistence behind such outbursts is the essence of dogmatism and the antithesis of reasoned approval.

The Nuremberg echo behind "Yes We Can" is a troubling sound -- not so much because of its Hitlerian overtones, but because that kind of frantic enthusiasm can only blur the clarity we need in the tangled circumstances that now beset our nation. If we ever needed cool heads and sound judgment to extricate ourselves from the quagmires of Iraq, a faltering economy, and corporate thievery in order to restore dignity to a nation that is rightly despised in so many parts of the world, we need it now. The last thing we need is mass-hypnosis and a rallying cry behind a charismatic leader who may or may not be able to scale the heights into which the presidency may thrust him. A leader rapidly becomes a hero to those who uncritically support him. In the early l940s, Bertolt Brecht fled Germany when he saw Hitlerism destroying his country. In Galileo written in exile, Andrea, the astronomer's apprentice, remarks: "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero." To which Galileo replies: "No, Andrea. Unhappy is the land that needs a hero."

There is more to chew on in those eight words than all the slogans of both the Democratic and Republican parties combined.


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Charles Marowitz on Swans (with bio).



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Published February 11, 2008