March 3rd, 2008

Having an epiphany about Obama

Somehow I’d missed the following extraordinary statement (HT: Obama Messiah) made by Obama in a speech he gave at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, shortly before the primary in that state:

My job this morning is to be so persuasive…that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack.

I can only assume—I can only hope—(and would it be inappropriate to say I can only pray?) that this sentence was delivered in a tone of gentle mockery, showing that he’s able to poke fun at himself, his hype, and those who seem to think he just might be the Second Coming.

Trouble is, I can’t find anyone describing him as speaking in that sort of tone. And if this line was delivered straight, in all seriousness—then be afraid. Be very afraid.

And if it wasn’t a joke, why didn’t the MSM jump all over this when it happened? Can you imagine if Bush or Huckabee had said something similar? Even as a joke?

The word “epiphany” has a specific religious meaning and a more general one:

Epiphany (Greek for “appearance” or “revelation”), is a Christian feast day which celebrates the “shining forth” or revelation of God in human form in the person of Jesus Christ…It is also called Theophany (“manifestation of God”), especially by Eastern Christians.

The more general meaning of epiphany is:

A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something; a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.

If Obama’s statement was made in a serious tone of voice and if questioned on the matter, no doubt Obama would say he was referring to the second meaning rather than the first. But he also is quite aware of the religious aspects of what he is saying. There’s that “beam of light” reference. And, after all, Obama is a Christian and would be expected to know the full religious implications of the word.

But even if we consider only its more general meaning, this represents a telling utterance of Obama’s, and no accident. As time goes on it has become more and more clear that he expects his supporters—he encourages them—to make their decision to vote for him based not on reason, nor a calculation of his actual record in the Senate or elsewhere, but on a sudden flash of intuitive realization.

He is transparent and unashamed in his appeal to emotion; he is aware of its power and his own in that realm, and of his relative weakness in other areas.

This is why I’m beginning to be very alarmed by Obama’s candidacy. All politicians appeal to feeling, of course, and many voting decisions are based at least partly on emotion and “gut.” But in my lifetime I have never seen a politician who concentrates on this aspect and glories in it, encourages it and nurtures it.

To me this seems dangerous. It’s also in line with a trend in the liberal camp previously noted—the celebration of feeling over thinking.

In this regard it’s no surprise that Oprah endorsed Obama over Hillary—the first time she has endorsed any Presidential candidate, by the way. The obvious explanation for the endorsement is that racial considerations were stronger for Oprah than feminist ones, and perhaps that’s true.

But I see it differently. If you listen to what Oprah actually said when asked the reason for her support, she cited her personal relationship with Obama (he is a friend) and her belief in him, rather than a single substantive accomplishment (or demographic characteristic) of the man:

Because I know him personally,” Ms. Winfrey replied. “I think that what he stands for, what he has proven that he can stand for, what he has shown was worth me going out on a limb for—and I haven’t done it in the past because I haven’t felt that anybody, I didn’t know anybody well enough to be able to say, ‘I believe in this person.’”

This was back in May, before the Obama train picked up speed and power. In retrospect, her words were a sign (a Sign?) of the future.

[Note that this post is indexed under both "politics" and "religion."]

37 Responses to “Having an epiphany about Obama”

  1. Dave Moelling Says:

    Whatever his ego was while growing up or in Princeton/Harvard, his years of community organizing in Chicago surely sealed the deal. While most people doing this start from good intentions many rapidy get a strong fix of what Kipling called “the White Man’s Burden”. You are bending down to the downtrodden. Without you they cannot succeed! This naturally breeds a messianic way of thinking.

    Hillary sucked all the air out of the democratic side and the netroots sealed the fate of any more adult candidates. Obama was at the right place and time.

  2. copithorne Says:

    I follow the Obama campaign closely.

    This sounds like something Michelle would say, not Barack.

  3. ninja pirate Says:

    Look at this section that site.

    http://obamamessiah.blogspot.com/2008/01/obama-to-disciples-you-will-experience.html

    Reading the recent flurry of stories about Barack Obama–the Clinton-slayer! the youth candidate! the next Kennedy!–it’d be easy to imagine that his campaign is all inspiration and little perspiration at this point, with rainbows and starshine bursting from the tailpipe of his tour bus. Obama both lampoons and slyly encourages the perception. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, for example, the senator was fond of telling audiences that “at some point in the evening, a light is going to shine down and you will have an epiphany and you’ll say, ‘I have to vote for Barack.’” Next up: levitation.

  4. ninja pirate Says:

    I really doubt he still uses that line, but he did in New Hampshire and South Carolina. It would nice to get a video of it.

  5. Christopher Says:

    On the other hand, we have straight from his campaign itself the following banner advertisement: “believe again”.

  6. Erebus Says:

    “He is transparent and unashamed in his appeal to emotion; he is aware of its power and his own in that realm, and of his relative weakness in other areas.”

    It’s difficult for an individual to avoid being seduced by his strength, and it usually heralds the nature of his eventual downfall.

  7. Justin Gardner Says:

    You honestly think he said that in an earnest manner, as if he truly thought of himself as some sort of messiah? Come on neo…

    Also, “Believe Again” is a reference to believing in politics again. Believe, hope, change, etc. These are all common refrains from his campaign and many before it that used the change message to inspire the electorate.

    I wish everybody would take a deep breath and quick pushing this Obama Messiah nonsense. It adds absolutely nothing to the conversation we all need to start having about who should lead the nation.

  8. Charles Says:

    Yes, the epiphany quote and “messiah meme” is being fanned by right-wing blogs.

    Check out the full context of the epiphany quote:

    And so your Lebanon organizer for the Obama campaign is Big Dave Ormbrendt (ph).

    Where’s Dave?

    Big Dave, come on up here. Stay right here. Here’s Big Dave. He is doing a great job.

    They love you, Big Dave. They love you.

    He is doing a great job.

    Now, in the last day here, Dave only has one thing on his mind. He wakes up with this thought, he goes to sleep with this thought, he eats and lives and breathes and dreams about getting you to the polls tomorrow. That’s all he is thinking about.

    More specifically, getting you to the polls to vote for me. That’s what he’s thinking about.

    (APPLAUSE)

    That’s his job, get you to the polls, vote for Obama. My job is to help him do his job. So I am going to try to be so persuasive in the 20 minutes or so that I speak that by the time this is over, a light will shine down from somewhere.

    It will light upon you. You will experience an epiphany. And you will say to yourself, I have to vote for Barack. I have to do it.

    And if you make that decision, if that moment happens, then it would be great — even though it’s just one day to go — for you to fill out one of these supporter cards before you leave, because that way we’ll know, you know, who, in fact, is going to be voting. Make sure that you are getting to the right precinct. It will be very helpful to Dave in doing his job.

    So let me just see a quick show of hands. How many people, be honest, are still undecided about who they’re going to vote for tomorrow? Raise your hands.

    Oh, see. Got some live ones right there. There’s one, there’s one over there. A couple others.

    All right. We have you now in our sights. We are coming after you, and coming after you hard.

    And hopefully if I make a persuasive case, then you will make sure to let Dave know by filling out one of those cards. But you know what? If you’re not voting for me, vote for somebody.

  9. Charles Says:

    Sorry, I thought the CITE attribute would show above, but seems to have gotten dropped. The above is from CNN transcript at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0801/07/cnr.02.html

    Basically, Obama is giving a stump speech in an energetic, somewhat lighthearted and humorous manner.

    When he says “We are coming after you”, it is with a smile and twinkle. But I am sure right-wing commentators will turn that into some other kind of misleading meme.

  10. ninja pirate Says:

    Charles, why do you think so many media outlets would get the quote wrong? He’s done this shtick in many different places. CNN has already been caught removing the quote from their blog and I wouldn’t put it behind them to sanitize the transcript considering how belligerent Obama has with the media. It would be nice to find a video.

  11. Trimegistus Says:

    Charles:

    Imagine that, say, Mike Huckabee had said “God wants me to be President” — with a “smile and a twinkle,” as you put it. Would the press just chuckle over his wit, or would the screams of “THEOCRACY!” shatter windows from coast to coast?

  12. Cake Says:

    It has already happened to Bush. The man so much as utters that he prays and the left goes bata$$ crazy.

    The Huckster had a bookcase in one of his commercials that formed a cross and what did he get? Instant condemnation and denigrating claims about his religiosity.

    Obama knows exactly what he is doing, bringing a sense of faith to people who have made it their personal cause to reject religion. A god for the godless.

  13. Charles Says:

    Ninja, regarding “why do you think so many media outlets would get the quote wrong?”, I am not saying the quote is not Obama’s actual words. What I am saying is that the short excerpt in printed prose conveys a very different picture than when you read the entire sequence, and when you see the video.

    When Reagan spoke into the microphone and said “The bombing begins in five minutes”, which a smile and twinkle, most intelligent observers accepted this as a joke (arguably not in the best of taste). Only those with a specific political agenda tried to make hay and say, “See!”.

    Trimegistus: You are right about Huckabee. The MM would scream “Theocracy”, and already have. Does that mean it is right to give similar treatment to Obama?

  14. Vince P Says:

    >Does that mean it is right to give similar treatment to Obama?

    That’s exactly what it means. The Press has a responsiblity to be objective. It’s going to measure Bush and Huckster by a certain standard that standard should apply to all or none.

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    Charles: as Vince P says, the treatment should be equal.

    And I took great pains to say I assume Obama’s words were delivered in a tone of gentle mockery, although I could find no description of them as such. My larger point, though, was that even if he was making fun of his own hype, he encourages that very hype and never has condemned it.

  16. Vince P Says:

    I think some people need to be reminded of the messianic rhetoric that infected his South Carolina vote:

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1207/7281.html

    COLUMBIA. S.C. and MANCHESTER, N.H. – In a giant Sunday afternoon rally suffused with Christian – and at times messianic – rhetoric, Barack Obama made his largest-scale pitch to black and white Democrats of South Carolina, the third and most devout presidential primary state

    “I give all praise and honor to God,” Obama began. “Look at the day the Lord has made.”

    Obama’s wife, Michelle, opened the rally with a description of her husband that could, at moments, have been a description of Jesus Christ.

    “We need a leader who’s going to touch our souls. Who’s going to make us feel differently about one another. Who’s going to remind us that we are one another’s keepers. That we are only as strong as the weakest among us,” she said, echoing biblical passages.

    Winfrey also touched on Christian themes that had not been highlighted in Iowa.

    “It’s amazing grace that brought me here,” she began, adding that she was “stepping out of my pew” – television – to engage in politics.

    It isn’t enough to tell the truth, Winfrey said. “We need politicians who know how to be the truth.”

    Winfrey also recalled a story from “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” a 1974 film based on Ernest Gaines’ 1971 novel.

    In Winfrey’s telling, the protagonist – an old woman who had survived slavery and the Civil War – would ask every child, “Are you the one? Are you the one?”

    “I do believe I do today we have the answer to Miss Pittman’s question – it’s a question that the entire nation is asking – is he the one?” Winfrey said. “South Carolina – I do believe he’s the one.”

    According to one academic discussion of the book by Christopher Mulvey, a professor at University of Winchester in the United Kingdom, the passage continues to ask whether the child is the one who will “carry part of our cross,” a “messianic figure.”

    Winfrey brought the crowd to what was probably its emotional peak in her introduction of Obama and her discussion of her own choice to foray into politics, which had members of the audience raising their arms in “O” salutes. Along the way, she mixed in dollops of her own non-sectarian philosophizing.

    “We’re all here to come together – to appreciate our uniqueness and to treasure our diversity, and we’re here to evolve to a higher plane,” she said. “The reason I love Barack Obama is because he is an evolved leader who can bring evolved leadership to our country.”

    …..

    [HERE COMES THE 'UNITY' BIT]

    Remembering some people “saying a black man can’t win,” Obama said, “I like to show them wrong. That gets me all riled up. Don’t tell me I can’t do something.”

    And the loudest cheers may have come when Obama remarked that President Bush will not be on the ballot next year.

    [THAT'S THE WAY TO BRING US ALL TOGETHER!! HOPE AND CHANGE AND PARTISANSHIP!!]

    The hope is that Winfrey’s “authenticity,” said Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, becomes synonymous with Obama’s.

    “Part of it is Oprah brings in a crowd of women, just a crowd in general, who believe in her and see authenticity in her,” Belcher said. “So many of them have given up on politics, are so cynical about politics, and they want to believe again.”

    [BELIEVE AGAIN? WHAT IS THIS A RELIGION?]

    end quote

    And how about his promise to: “to create a kingdom right here on earth”

    This guy is a demagoge plain and simple. He knows exactly the strings to pull and he’s pulling them.

  17. Ymarsakar Says:

    People, often times fake liberals, always doubt the claim that the Democrats accuse their political enemies of exactly what the Democrats themselves have been doing, are doing, or will be doing.

    So when the Democrats accuse the Bush administration of approving waterboarding torture, they are really talking about themselves. When the Democrats accuse the Republicans of being war mongers and cheerleaders for war, Democrats are really talking about themselves. And now we see that this rule of thumb even applies to Democrats and their accusations of conservative theocracy.

  18. strcpy Says:

    I’ve said for some time that am aprehensive about another Clinton presidency but I fear an Obama one.

    Why? I don’t think Hillary would be that terribly different from her husband. Both are power hungry, the main difference I see is that Bill wanted power for all the trappings and Hillary wants it to excercise it. However, both of them were so glued to the polls that they effectively didn’t do anything – I think Hillary will most be the same thing.

    Obama is a believer – I think he truly believes in what he says. As such I don’t see him as doing anything other than acting on it. Just as Bush is a believer in what we generally term the War on Terror and he does what he believe to be right, I think Obama is the same way on nearly all his ideas *and* in his own supremeness.

    If McCain has any sense he will stomp Obama in the general election, but I don’t have confidence that many republicans out there do and McCain in general. As of right now Obama is talking to other believers and is having a good time of it, it’s MUCH harder to convince non-believers of your ascendancy when, if pushed to that point, once you get past the platitudes your ideas are extremely unpopular. However. McCain has already said he is going to run a “clean” campaign and we will see if that means allowing Obama to never ever state what he really means by a “stronger America where everyone is equal”. If so, then he will loose miserably.

  19. sergey Says:

    “But in my lifetime I have never seen a politician who concentrates on this aspect and glories in it, encourages it and nurtures it. ”
    Neo, you, it seems, missed oratory of Akhmedineedjad at UN General Assambley which had the same features, only in Muslim garb, or quite analogous speech of Hugo Chaves at the same meeting. Now this is a common attribute of religious Left politicians in Latin America (so called Theology of Liberation, a cross of pop-Christianity with pop-Marxism) and, of course, of political Islam (analogous cross of Nazi doctrine with militant Islam). The church whose paritioner Obama is also belong to Theology of Liberation creed.

  20. sergey Says:

    Neo, you should be professionally accustomed to phenomenon of dissimulation, that is, when a maniac with some shreds of self-criticism understands obscenity of public revelation of his idea fixe but can not completely suppress it, so expresses it as if a joke. This is common to psychotic patients struggling for social adaptation.

  21. SteveH Says:

    This Obama craze says more about his fans than it says about him.

    These are people consumed with the assinine idea that image always trumps substance. Would these people be listening to Oprah’s advice on life if she had crooked teeth and a terrible fashion sense?

    This is why GWB’s sometimes dyslexic, herky jerky style is so hated by them. Even when he gives 15 billion dollars to fight disease in Africa!

  22. sergey Says:

    I can not see Obama as a simply true believer. He looks like a case of paranoid eschatological delusion masquerading as true believer, that is, another Jim Jones. Only this subliminal psychotic component can provide an explanation of his hypnotic powers on susceptible audience. Hitler and Lenin are examples of such type of personality. Russian poet Boris Pasternak wrote about his experience with Lenin speech:
    “The words can be about mazut. But winding of his voice has a breath of a naked truth, shattering silly layer of husk”.
    In this case the tone is deliberately ambiguous, so it can be perceived both as a serious statement and as a joke, allowing retreat to a credible denial. This is not necessary a cynical plot, rather true expression of psychotic splitting between a maniacal conviction and its negation.

  23. Zhombre Says:

    The most beautiful sound I ever heard:
    Obama, Obama, Obama, Obama
    All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word:
    Obama, Obama, Obama.

    Obama, I’ve just voted for a guy named Obama,
    and suddenly the name will never be the same to me.
    Obama! I’ve just seen a hope named Obama.
    And suddenly I’ve found how wonderful a sound can be.
    Obama, say it loud and there’s music playing.
    Say it soft and it’s almost like praying,
    Obama, I never stop saying: “OBAMA!”

  24. sergey Says:

    If this description of borderline psychotic state seems too preposterous, ask yourself is O’Brien from Orwell novel a fanatic or a cynic? He is both, a good double-thinker, which is exactly what Party wants him to be. A thoroughly cultivated schizophrenia IS a genuine Party line, and I have seen dozens of such types in Higher Party School during my retraining course at the down of Gorbachev’s perestroika.

  25. neo-neocon Says:

    sergey: I actually meant an American politician, and particularly a mainstream American politician.

  26. HLVS Says:

    Oh no you don’t, Neo. If the neocon movement – and, more specifically, the pro-Israel movement – comes out against the Obama candidacy, the relationship between the American black and jewish communtiies is going to be lost for a hundred years.

  27. Sergey Says:

    Millions of Latino immigrants can be expected to make US politics more like Latino American. “Theology of Liberation” is already influential political force in US, with dozen millions of religious Left, and is attractive to minorities, both Black and Latinos. And secular segment of progressives, abandoning Judeo-Christian tradition, can believe anything: it has no immunity against utopian seduction. See
    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/02/obama_the_messiah_of_generatio.html

  28. curtis schweitzer (dot) net | Down to the Wire: The Politics of Hope versus the Politics of Merit Says:

    [...] emotional appeal and attempts to inspire “hope” within his supporters and to engender a cult of personality surrounding him.. These tactics, in and of themselves aren’t necessarily wrong or [...]

  29. Justin Gardner Says:

    Since we’re on the topic, let me ask this…did you all get into such a tizzy when McCain sang “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran…”? Because I didn’t. He was obviously joking.

    Messianic schmessianic…these arguments are so silly…

  30. Still-A-Neocon Says:

    While McCain is familiar and his record is fairly clear, Obama is a Rohrshach Test: what you see really reflects your inner desires rather than reflecting Obama himself.

    I see a similarity to when the Israelites—not satisfied being ruled by judges—demanded a king. They were not satisfied with God as King ruling from heaven with judges to advise on the ground. Security concerns and other reasons led people to want a king and strong rule.

    It seems that many Obama enthusiasts really want a King… someone who can, through proclamation, make new laws and start new programs. This is the way he talks… as if there will be no politics if he is president. Just elect him and all the politics will go away and everything he promises will come to pass. These are not powers of a president, but an absolute monarch. It is naive. It is dangerous. It is naive and dangerous because our system does not give absolute authority and dangerous that so many want Obama to have these powers.

    Too many Americans want a King… would allow a federal government with many more central powers (if Obama is King)… to push through a lot of grandiose and expensive ideas… on the basis that they are for the good of all of us (at least those who are not rich)… no need for checks and balances as long as Obama is president? Obama is our country’s Rohrshach Ink Blot and enthusiasm for he reflects very un-American desires. Perhaps that is why the left admires Europe so much with its centralized power and history of monarchy. We would never say directly we want a king but the Ink Blot tells us otherwise.

  31. Artfldgr Says:

    the next Kennedy!

    oh, i hope not. just read the executive orders Kennedy made, and Clinton too. everything is in place for a cult of personality to suspend the constitution and take control of everything.

    i dont remember executive orders in the constitution, or any other king like thing, but hey, most dont pay attention.

    “Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term “National socialism”). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities—where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.”

    its happened before, and set the way to how socialists can change a free state when it reaches criticality (that point in systems when they suddenly change, like water to steam), while revolution is for weaker states.

    even now there are similar attacks on religion, the assertion of dawkins that those who believe in a god are delusional, is the same assertion stalin used to put people in mental institutions.

    obama has shown all the pedigree symbols that everyone ignores or makes excuses for.

    he represents all sides and therfore represents none and can do what he wants, and point to a side that represents that and be absolved.

    i never looked but should look to see if he does the sociopathic mirroring that another despot did.

  32. AST Says:

    My guess is that he’s channeling his mentor, Jeremiah Wright. He seems quite fond of borrowing lines he’s heard elsewhere. The title of his second book is from a Wright sermon. Then there are those lines he took from Deval Patrick, who also lacks substance.

    I’m beginning to believe that Obama has a talent for parroting what he senses his audiences want to hear.

  33. Vince P Says:

    This is my favorite You Tube video showing all the various platitudes that Obama has appropiated in his campaign:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Y7OFLl3asg

    Obama: There Will Be Bamboozling

  34. C. Neiman Says:

    For goodness sake: of course he was being ironic. Didn’t you watch the speech? This was his riff in several ispeeches early on: he begins by thanking one of his precinct captains by name, and tells us what her job is, he then says “And my job is to help her do her job. My job is to be so persuasive…” This is the riff that Hillary was mocking when she said “And the skies will open…” etc. You owe it to yourself to properly research what you’re writing about, and then give it some good thought, before you post something like this.

  35. Freedom Now Says:

    So Neiman, are you trying to say that Obama is not the One?

    This is a great example of the overbearing irony of a really arrogant candidate.

  36. therapist Fort Worth Says:

    Why did you delete my comment? Nice censorship you have here.

  37. modern dance style Says:

    #Wordsaftersex Turn that trey songs down now

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