Obama may be no messiah but second coming is still desirable


The Obama cult is a mass delusion but the Republicans offer only a menacing alternative

ON TUESDAY American voters will be asked to ponder one of the greatest mass delusions in political history. Many voters demonstrated immunity from the start. Some have shaken themselves free. A few remain intoxicated.

We are discussing the notion – posited by quite respectable folk four years ago – that Barack Obama was going to abolish hunger, outlaw disease and repeal the second law of thermodynamics. Writing in this space just after the 2008 election, I imagined an article from the future that sorrowfully remembered the damp hysteria and set it beside the unhappy reality that was sure to follow.

More than one angry respondent addressed me as a parent might speak to some killjoy who had just told their child Santa Claus didn’t exist.

The genuflections of the Obama cult reached staggering levels of obsequiousness. Remember that horrid video by Will.i.amduring which political heavyweights such as Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Scherzinger and that bloke from Lost reassured us that, yes, they could.

Fashionable cafes still make space for Obama posters on their walls (I bet Calvin Coolidge was never so celebrated). The revivalist frenzy reached its absurd zenith when the Norwegian Nobel committee decided to award President Obama its peace prize in honour of his decision to live life as somebody other than George W Bush. Even Obama seemed a little embarrassed by that gesture.

The Right-wing Fruitcake Company has made a valiant effort to portray Obama as a bomb-throwing Trotskyite. In truth, he has governed with great (some would say excessive) cautiousness. This is understandable. His healthcare reforms were less dramatic than many acolytes had hoped – a “single-payer” system never looked like a realistic option – but the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act still seems to have done him more political harm than good.

With Congress deadlocked it would require a dangerously pugnacious mentality to move that fight on towards Guantánamo Bay (still open), gun control (largely ignored) and climate change (what was that again?). Still, the hopeful incantations of the Obamologists in 2008 now seem absurdly naive.

It’s hard not to ponder this while watching Obama touring storm-damaged sections of New Jersey this week. Of all the issues that have been shuffled into a corner, climate change must be the most pressing and – as of last week – the most violently conspicuous. This is not to suggest, of course, that any action by Obama would have dissuaded Hurricane Sandy from flinging itself against the eastern seaboard. But climate change is unquestionably going to trigger ever more extreme weather. If the politicians fail to show some cojones then such devastation could become commonplace.

Yet neither Obama nor Mitt Romney, his wax dummy of a challenger, has allowed himself to mention climate change on the campaign trail. Astonishingly, the topic did not come up once in the televised debates. The pressing demands of immediate political expediency look set to overpower any trivial need to prevent our grandchildren from living their lives in a wetter version of Mad Max 2. Yes, we can? Tell that to the New Jersey residents currently placing their shoreside houses on stilts.

So, the message of this left- leaning column is that Obama is useless? He’s George W Bush with a hipper iPod. He’s a better class of empty suit.

Let’s not get carried away. The battle against the current version of US Republicanism is still worth fighting. True, Romney has shown an extraordinary ability to shift position at the spin of a headline. The fire-breathing brownshirt of the primaries has been replaced by the sort of inclusive conservative Clint Eastwood would happily invite around for tea. But he stands in front of a party that harbours a truly eye-watering collection of sexist, fundamentalist, science- hating, bible-bashing loons.

On October 23rd Richard Mourdock, Republican candidate for the Senate in Indiana, defended his opposition to abortion in the case of rape by arguing that such a pregnancy would be “something that God intended to happen”. Romney refused to withdraw his endorsement. In late September, Paul Broun, a Republican congressman from Georgia, was recorded arguing that embryology, evolution and the Big Bang theory are all “lies straight from the pit of hell”. Astonishingly, Broun serves on the House science committee.

Observing this clutch of ghouls lumbering menacingly behind Romney, the need to return Obama becomes ever more pressing.

He is not the risen Lord. He will not cause the rivers to flow with champagne. But he is a decent, articulate politician with a greater than average interest in protecting the less fortunate and forwarding progressive economic policies. Freed from concerns about re-election during a second term, he may shake off caution and take on some of those more fearsome challenges.

Let us not, however, expect too much of him. Few men have lived happily after being hailed as the new messiah. Indeed, they tend to get crucified.

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