Atrios elaborates on a sentiment that he’s frequently, but heretofore somewhat opaquely, expressed:
I don’t have a problem understanding why some people support Obama and some people support Clinton. It really puzzles me why lots of people don’t get that simple fact. The point is not that the candidates are identical and no one should be a supporter or care who wins, it’s that you should recognize that the other person’s supporters aren’t necessarily deluded or stupid. You may disagree with their reasons, but they have them.
Eh. It’s not the support or supporters I object to, it’s the enthusiasm and the fanatics. For any politician. But especially for such mediocre ones. After all, it’s not as if either Clinton or Obama are exactly FDR incarnate; they are both fairly average “liberal” politicians who are thoroughly schooled in the arts of serial triangulation. They ain’t radical; nor are they idealist; they are simply better than any Republican alternative. They’re good enough for a vote (with or without one’s nose tightly held) but that’s it. It just won’t do to mask this homely reality with fawning, drooling praise of either politician.
For the most part, the left blogosphere (Atrios in particular) has been good about reining in the fanaticism. The operational phrase lately is, “my candidate sucks” — a very healthy and sensible attitude to have, because it’s the gospel fucking truth. Then there are the exceptions: the statue-polishers, the amen-sayers, the folks who advocate in the stylized terms of a propaganda poster. And in this milieu, it’s no surprise that some wingnuts found an opportunity: ‘Aha,’ they said. ‘A bunch of liberals have formed a personality cult!’ Instead of telling these wingnuts to look in the mirror then fuck-off and die (it takes considerable chutzpah for a bunch who collectively declared their moistness and tumescence and utter submission at the sight of Dear Leader’s flight-suited package to accuse others of cultish behavior), some equally opportunistic — or inordinately paranoid — liberals, who should know better, immediately declared all discussion on the subject radioactive — worse, they deemed it “inherently rightwing.” From thereafter, to comment on the subject of creepy fealties to Obama or Clinton (but mostly the former) was to “perpetuate a rightwing meme.” Well, sorry, but when I see stuff like this positively adhesive post on Obama by Ezra Klein, my first impulse is not unlike Robert Stack’s in Airplane!‘s terminal (but not ending) scene; and my attitude ain’t “rightwing” unless I, like Stack, actually punch the fanatic proffering me a flower in the name of some personality or institution of ‘higher consciousness’:
Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I’ve heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.
Closely inspect this passage (it might be called the Ecstasy of St. Ezra), the fawning sentiments of which are not too hard to find expressed elsewhere (and not just about Obama — Hillary, too) on the internet. Is it not awestruck, deferential, servile, even a bit fanatically religious? And aren’t such qualities, when you get down to it, really …well, rightwing? It’s so very easy to be worshipful of a personality. That’s why wingnuts are especially prone to the personality cult. A more difficult and adult endeavor, if I may say so without being suspected of self-advertizement, is to sustain enthusiasm in the Voltairean service of ‘crushing the infamous,’ be it a personage or an idea; but then, what sort of religious emoting — or career advancement for a centristy young pundit on the make — is there in that? Silly, superficial emotions of ‘belonging’ can be experienced through this sort of idolatry (Ezra also went from ‘ZOMG Howard Dean!!’ to ‘Meh, Howard Dean‘ in fairly short order) with little cost; meanwhile, emotion is rigorously kept in check (in Charlie Peters’s wishy-washy house style which Klein has so wholly absorbed) when dealing with those wingnuts (and their villainous ideology) whose hides should be perpetually pelted with bolts of righteous anger and outrage and scorn. It’s just too perfect: passion where and when it is worse than useless; “seriousness” and “evenhandedness” exactly where and when passion is needed. Why is that?
The answer, I think, is related to that most childish desire: the security blanket. More specifically, it’s the comfort found in the will to believe, and especially believe in an authority. Or as Klein himself explains in one of those admissions that the older people who dote on him like to tell themselves are evidence of his growth but are in actuality merely reminders to all of his incredibly ill-suited (for a political animal of any substance) instincts:
[W]hat’s really warped in me is not where I stand on the political spectrum, but the trust and assumption of good faith with which I can approach the news, and the Republicans, and all the rest.
Oh, to believe again! Oh, to be able to turn the page, to forget the bad
Nixon Reagan Bush years, to sacrifice vigilance and skepticism, to pretend that all the damage was an accident, an aberration and not an inevitable result of the stupidity and wickedness of the Republicans in particular and reactionary ideology in general. Oh, to go back again to the halcyon days when honest conservatives and sensible liberals honorably and civilly overcame their differences to form a trustworthy government! Yes, yes: this infantile desire is the thumb that, once placed in one’s mouth, will always become a hook.
I fear many low-information and n00b voters share Klein’s tendencies: X-candidate will restore their security blanket, after which they can go back to counting so many (other) sheep. To make an atrocious pun, they are no better than Ezra. It’s not that they want to permanently rollback the wingnuttery (which is, after all, the source of the country’s malaise); no, that would mean a long-term commitment or something, totally beyond the pale. Too radical! Instead, they find far too much to like in the personalities of fetching Mr. Obama or nice Mrs. Clinton — and, much more tragically and dangerously, find in their candidacies and shallow, tepid politics so very much symbolism to project deep and understandable feelings onto. A bunch of misplaced affection for two altogether boring and typical politicians. Enthusiasm is good in politics, but such emotion would better serve the country if, say, it took the attitude that conservatism as represented in the political arc of Goldwater-Reagan-Bush is a monstrous failure and therefore permanently unacceptable to every decent, conscientious American. (Yes, this can be construed as “going negative,” a road which many people feel themselves too good to travel. Very well, if one must be “positive,” make fucking sure it’s not in any sort of compromise whatsoever to those whom one should be against: centrism, like bipartisanship and “Moderation,” is a vice not a virtue.)
You know, we lefties can still be serious and principled while at the same time maintaining our ironic detachment from the candidates. It’s not cynicism I’m necessarily advocating here, though of course even nihilistic cynicism is preferable to naivete (not to mention gullibility); rather, what I’d prefer is something like what sophisticated and subtle Christians (let’s say, Unitarians) feel when encountering some of their more primitive brethren getting all ‘Jeeeeeeeeeezus will-ah save you-ahh’: A healthy embarrassment. Leave the cult-esque behavior to the wingnuts. And if you have to find “meaningfulness,” identity, or redemption in politics, for God’s — better, for the country’s and world’s — sake, invest long-term in ideology rather than short-term in some politician’s carefully-crafted-for-TV personality.
Finally, to sweeten my poison, here’s the only Cult I could ever recommend: