"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -- Theodore Roosevelt


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama's Grass-Roots Cultists Revisited

I had lightly mentioned in a previous post that Obama was unleashing his "grass-roots" cultists onto an unsuspecting public to promote his ideological and nonsensical budget. Check out this article in American Thinker by Lona Manning. Although I am not one to believe that these Obama-shills from Organizing for America (OFA) are but one or two steps away from the Brown Shirts and the Red Guard (as Manning seems to fear), there is still reason to worry about what they represent.

The OFA's website (I offer no link but it's not hard to find) is rather hard to stomach-- it actually says at the bottom of the page that the website is "Powered by Hope" (gag...). It incorporates classic "belonging" language interspersed with trite pearls of wisdom from Obama's teleprompter (paraphrasing: I ask you to not believe in me, but to believe in yourself to make this change possible, etc.). This banality and dishonest familiarity, in itself, is not really a cause for alarm. Plenty of websites, political and non-political, attempt to create a friendly and intimate atmosphere. While people like me may find such attempts off-putting (I don't like it when department store salespeople use my name-- "Is there anything else I can help you with, Mr. Ngaby?" when making a credit card purchase... There's something to be said for the certain distance of polite formality.), it doesn't necessarily raise warning flags.

Something that is rather alarming is mentioned by Manning in her article. The OFA's loyalty is not to ideals nor even political ideology, but to Obama himself. As Manning writes "A visit to the OFA website reveals that supporters are not simply asked to sign up, they are asked to take a pledge. A pledge to support -- not the flag, not the constitution, not the country, not even the Democratic party, but Obama and his 'bold plan.'" As Manning points out this is not unlike the thoroughly creepy I Pledge video produced by Ashton Kucher (I posted about that Hollywood hypocrisy here back in January). Here they pledge to serve their president by being nicer to people and thus becoming a part of Obama's cheek apparently.

While this sort of personality worship is certainly unesttling, a lot of it is most likely borne by the novelty of the first African-American president. Smitten by the historical significance of this, people have assigned him all sorts of wonderful attributes and colassal expectations-- none of which any man could possibly measure up to. Already the facade is breaking down as more and more Democrats dig in their heels and more and more moderates see Obama for what he actually is: a leftist with little managerial skills or past accomplishments, but plenty of cockiness and naivety. While worrisome traits for a president, they are not the attributes that lasting personality cults actually develop around.

How the OFA is grass-roots is a bit beyond me. I suppose turning regular people into Obama-shills means grass-roots now. This, too, I find disturbing. This false "grass-roots" organization is given marching orders and then sent to drum up support in the neighborhoods. Taped messages from Obama inspires them into action and then they are sent out to gather signatures and support for various Obama measures-- bold plans and great change, I guess. This political model turns the burden of responsibility from citizens to government. No longer is the government answerable to the people, but people to the government. Obama dictates, the citizens of the OFA go out to gather support-- to convince the people of Obama's rightness.

While this top-down mentality is acceptable (I suppose) for political campaigns, it is antithetical to the way our representative democracy is supposed to work. A government official, no matter how high, is supposed to be exposed to the scrutiny of the citizens. To interfere with this, by way of local shills, is disconcerting.

Yet, Obama is by no means the first American politician to try this tactic. Past presidents and government officials have done so. For instance, Woodrow Wilson's administration used to hire men to stand up in theaters between films and stir up patriotic fervor to support his desire (at that point) to become involved in World War I.

Usually such historical instances are quickly forgotten, most likely because of their highly questionable effectiveness. And I predict that Obama's OFA will likewise be ineffective. People don't want be bothered with political campaigns every time a difficult issue arises, and most are savvy enough to sense manipulation when confronted by vapid political mouthpieces. Look at how White House Press Secretaries are regularly viewed and treated by both media and audience.

What bothers me the most about all this are the ideas that underlie the concept of the OFA, namely that it's perfectly reasonable to enlist people to go out and work for the executive branch in an attempt to bypass Congress. While some people raise red flags over the personality-cult aspects of the OFA and others make comparisons to Mao's Red Brigade and Hugo Chavez's neighborhood committees, most just overlook it. Fear-mongering the OFA serves no purpose except to make it seem not so bad-- I mean can you really compare it to the Brown Shirts and not make it seem better? Ignoring it is the best option. Its ineffectiveness will seal its eventual downfall.

Yet to ignore the OFA is not to overlook it. This attempt to strong arm Congress and to bypass the concept of separation of powers should not be glossed over. Political leaders that will come after Obama will attempt to use the internet and top-down-grass-roots organizations to garner political clout. Perhaps someone, maybe even Obama, will come up with some twist or variation that will actually make it effective. But for now, the current incarnation of the OFA should be viewed as a case study in American politics, a warning for future attempts to circumvent the bottom-up spirit of representative democracy.

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