OK, I’ll admit it: six months ago I was very near buying into the whole Obama thing. That was when he was in his post-racial phase — before Jeremiah Wright, back when voting for Obama seemed like a way of putting an end to the unhealthy obsessiveness about race that disfigures liberal politics.
I was even willing to swallow hard and give Obama a pass on his left-wing populist rhetoric. That got more difficult when the connection with Bill Ayers, unrepentant Communist bombthrower, came to light — but I might have managed to choke down even that.
Why, you ask? Because John McCain was no prize. The political-speech restrictions that came with McCain-Feingold “reform” have stuck in my craw from the day it was enacted. I found Matt Welch’s dissection of McCain as an authoritarian maverick all too convincing in light of what I knew about the man. Once you get past his determination to win the Iraq war there is very little I can find praiseworthy in McCain.
(Anyone who finds this suprising may need a reminder that, despite my strong pro-Second-Amendment and pro-Iraq-War stance, I am not and have never been a conservative. Much less a “neocon”, whatever that means.)
Of course, my extreme dubiousness about McCain made Barack Obama more tempting. I suppose that attraction might have survived flip-flop after flip-flop, advisors and old friends thrown under the bus, and the increasing whiff of arrogant elitism coming off Obama and his appalling wife. I could have made excuses to myself about these things; Goddess knows enough other well-meaning people have been doing so.
No, what really put me off Barack Obama was the increasingly creepy and pathological tenor of the relationship between him and his fans. I think it was in mid-February, a bit before the Jeremiah Wright story got really ugly, that I started to notice my “Never Again!” nerves tingling.
I’m not Jewish. But I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at an impressionable age. Years later, what I learned in that book made me into an anarchist. What it did much sooner than that was to instill in me the same sense of the Holocaust as the central moral disaster of the 20th century that the Jews feel. It left me with the same burning determination: Never again! Ever since, I have studied carefully the forms of political pathology behind that horror and attended even more carefully for any signs that they might be taking root in the West once again.
So, yes, I worried about Jörg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen; twitched a little at reports of a resurgence by the British National Front. But there was nothing in my country that whispered of resurgent fascism. Well, nothing outside hard-left-wing rhetoric, anyway.
(One of the minor things that cheeses me off about leftists is the loose way they throw around “fascist” as a term of abuse for anything they don’t like. This is at best naive and at worst dangerously stupid.)
Fascism has many structural characteristics that distinguish it from even the worst sorts of authoritarianism in the mainstream of U.S.’s political spectrum. One of these is the identification of a godlike Maximum Leader with the will of the people. A fascist society demands not just obedience but the surrender of the self to an ecstatic collective consciousness embodied in flesh by the Leader.
George Bush, whatever his faults — and I could list ’em from here to next Tuesday — is not a fascist, does not behave like a fascist, and (most importantly for my argument) does not elicit that kind of ecstatic identification from his supporters. Thus, calling Bush a fascist confuses run-of-the-mill authoritarian tendencies with a degree of power and evil of which he will never be capable.
Here’s where it gets more frightening. Fascisms happen because people begin by projecting their own fears, hope and desires on the Maximum Leader, and end by submerging themselves in the Leader’s will. Neither George Bush nor John McCain has ever inspired this kind of response. But Barack Obama…does. More effectively than any American politician in my lifetime. And that is a frightening thing to see.
Note: I am absolutely not accusing Barack Obama of being a fascist or of having the goals of a fascist demagogue. I am saying that the psychological dynamic between him and his fans resembles the way fascist leaders and their people relate. The famous tingle that ran up Chris Matthew’s leg. the swooning chanting crowds, the speeches full of grand we-can-do-it rhetoric, the vagueness about policy in favor of reinforcing that intoxicating sense of emotional identification…how can anyone fail to notice where this points?
There are hints of grandiosity and arrogance in Obama’s behavior now. As the bond between him and his followers become more intense, though, it is quite possible they will not remain mere traces. I’m not panicked yet, because Obama is still a long way off from behaving like a megalomaniacal nut-job. But if the lives of people like Napoleon, Mussolini, or Hitler show us anything it’s that the road from Obama’s flavor of charismatic leader to nut-job tyrant is open, and dangerously seductive to the leader himself.
There is one more historical detail that worries me, in this connection. There is a pattern in the lives of the really dangerous charismatic tyrants that they tend to have originated on the geographical and cultural fringes of the societies they came to dominate, outsiders seeking ultimate insiderhood by remaking the “inside” in their own image. Hitler, the border Austrian who ruled Germany; Napoleon, the Corsican who seized France; and Stalin, the Georgian who tyrannized Sovet Russia. And, could it be…Obama, the half-black kid from Hawaii?
Again, I am not accusing Barack Obama of being a monster. But when I watch videos of his campaign, I see a potential monster in embryo. Most especially do I see that potential monster in the shining faces of his supporters, who may yet seduce Obama into believing that he is as special and godlike as they think he is.
That, if it ever happens, will be the moment at which Barack Obama becomes truly dangerous.
I will not be part of encouraging Barack Obama — or our country — down that road to evil.