Friday, January 1, 2010

Obama, the Fallen Messiah

Smirking Chimp

During a time of economic decline, persistent cultural strife, deepening American involvement in far-off military conflicts, and rapid environmental deterioration, is there any wonder that so many Americans believe in salvation fantasies promising them both a transcendent, everlasting future and violent retribution against perceived evildoers? A 2002 CNN poll found that 59% of Americans believed that the prophecies in the Book of Revelations would come true. The startling number reflected the still-fresh trauma of the 9/11 attacks, but I suspect that it has held steady, if not risen. Indeed, mainstream American culture is permeated by apocalyptic beliefs and the yearning for messianic deliverance; the success of the movie 2012 and the forthcoming schlockbuster Legacy are just two recent examples.

I spent several chapters in my book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, following the Christian right's ascent to the mountain top with George W. Bush's re-election; detailing how the movement shrouded science and reason in the shadow of the cross; then observing it as it swiftly imploded during the Terri Schiavo charade. Because I completed my book just days after Barack Obama's inauguration, I was only able to foreshadow the right's plan to undermine the new president without much analysis of what Obama would do, or how the movement that propelled his success would behave.

The Obama phenomenon is impossible to analyze or understand without considering the deep levels of anxiety and desperation that progressives suffered during the radical presidency of George W. Bush. When the Democratic primary began, some progressives seemed to embrace a secular version of the Christian right's salvation fantasy. They ached for a secular messiah to descend from the political heavens, reverse Bush's disastrous legacy and save the country from itself. A mere politician, even with solid progressive credentials, would have been unacceptable to them.


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