A cult can be defined as a tight knit group of people who devote themselves to a charismatic leader who promises to solve all their personal or social problems by the power of his personality. Given that definition, I would argue that the Obama campaign has all the marks of a cult.
First, Obama promises to solve the problem of politics. People attracted to his campaign think that he can transcend the ordinary negotiations and conflicts of the political realm just by the force of his powerful optimism. If the political itself is the problem, and not the various social problems that must be negotiated within the political arena, then Obama himself is the answer. Somehow, magically, he will create a new political space that will save us from having to fight or even disagree with each other. And a politician who promises to put an end to politics must be subjected to the most stringent skepticism. What they want to put an end to, of course, is the politics they disagree with, while wrapping their own politics in a rhetoric of consensus and optimism.
Second, Obama promises to save us from racial conflict. After all, he is unlike any other black politician that we have ever seen. He is not really all that black, having a white mother and having grown up in Hawaii and Indonesia. Obama is thus well placed to move us beyond race. Why? Because he is both black and white, an uncolored ink blot that can absorb and erase racial conflict. The problem is that Obama, who grew up without a father and without much of an American identity too, is able to have it all ways: he can play the race card while promising whites that he is above and beyond the color problem. His whole life has been a search for some kind of national and racial identity, and maybe he will find himself if he becomes President of the United States, but it is unlikely that he will help the rest of us find our way out of the thicket of political and racial correctness. Obama is the ultimate answer to white liberal guilt: a black man who makes people feel good for voting for him, regardless of whether they are doing anything about the very real problems of race in America.
Third, Obama promises to be the new JFK, which is absolutely fundamental to the revival of liberalism in America. Ted and Caroline have crowned him JFK’s second coming, thus completing the mythical cycle that began when liberals mourned JFK as the last great liberal. When JFK was assassinated by a quasi-communist nutcase, the left could not bear to think that their hero had been killed by one of their own. Liberals set out to mythologize JFK as the President who would have made America liberal if he had not been cut down in his prime. This is nonsense, of course, but this myth has laid the foundation for how liberals understand their own cultural and political demise. If only JFK had not been shot…but now he has returned, as a black man to boot! Never has fantasy been more important in driving a presidential campaign.
Just talk to anyone who supports Obama. They will say that he does have policy positions, but they will also say that he transcends all the typical policy options. Most importantly, they will talk about how Obama makes them feel. They will say that Obama represents the future, that he can heal the country, that he will create a new unity in America. And they will look a bit glassy eyed as they tell you all of this. Don’t argue with them. It is impossible to argue rationally with a member of a cult. Don’t even compare Hilary to Obama, because, like all cult members, they hate their rivals. Just be as clear eyed as you can, and pray that Obama does not get elected—not because he claims to transcend politics, which is merely empty rhetoric, but because, like all liberals, when he says he is transcending left vs. right, he is really being more leftist than ever. He wants to replace arguments over real differences with feelings of good will, and that is the real danger.