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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Messianism

(Note: this is a portion of an item cross-posted from Beliefnet.com)
I’m less certain than Mara Vanderslice that John McCain’s recent pattern of decrying Barack Obama’s “messianism” is a deliberate effort to label him as the Antichrist. It’s not that I consider Team McCain incapable of “dog whistle” appeals to the Christian Right; their candidate has certainly mastered those dark arts in a variety of abstract references to his hatred of “judicial activism,” which to that audience means legalized abortion, gay partnership rights, and church-state separation. But unless John Hagee spent some time whispering in McCain’s ear during their brief public partnership, I wouldn’t guess he or his campaign advisors possess the kind of theological dexterity necessary to paint the 666 on Obama’s forehead. But maybe Mara’s right. We’ll see if McCain’s campaign continues using religiously-charged terms like “the anointed one” in references to their opponent.
The more obvious problem with McCain’s attacks on Obama’s charisma is simple hypocrisy. No recent presidential candidate in either party has done more to build a cult of personality around himself and his biography, from the arrogant assertion that he is uniquely a “straight-talker,” to the massive investment his campaigns past and present have made in the proposition that his courage and suffering as a POW should fully qualify him for the presidency and rebut any criticism. (Yes, I know he has a long record in Congress, but even many Republicans admit that record is something of an incoherent mess, particularly given his vast flip-flopping during the current campaign cycle).
McCain has also been an eager participant in the self-parodying WWRD (What Would Reagan Do?) idolatry so common among conservatives. And let’s don’t forget (which is easy to do given subsequent events) that during the brief moment of triumphalism before, during and after the invasion of Iraq, many conservatives engaged in an orgy of messianism about George W. Bush as a towering world-historical figure who was decisively and single-handedly smiting the forces of Islamofascism by deposing Saddam Hussein (another candidate for the Antichrist job in some Christian Right precincts) and creating a pro-American revolution throughout the Middle East and beyond.
One party’s “messianism” is clearly another’s “charisma.”

2 comments on “Messianism

  1. sporcupine on

    Jokes about “messianic” views, movements, and people seem to me have a background sense that believing in ANY messiah is foolish.
    In the spring, I understood why a fraction of Senator Clinton’s supporters would pass that sort of joke around. Democrats get the lion’s share of militantly secular votes, and Senator Clinton surely got a slice of those.
    I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the McCain camp would go near that line of argument. For that matter, how can they think they can use an image of Moses in a rude advertisement, and not expect viewers to think they were rude to Moses (and to Charlton Heston)?
    How can they toss around sacred concepts in so profane a setting, and assume that everyone will blame Obama for it?

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  2. Ciccina on

    I find it interesting that so many Obama supporters – and so many Democratic party men in general – have such finely tuned ears that they can pick up even the faintest hint of a dog whistle coming from the GOP… and yet many of these same men were deaf to the “dog whistle” of sexism coming from Obama, his surrogates and his supporters on the internet and in the media. In the case of the former, you (the plural) are willing to entertain the notion that the dog whistle is there even if you can’t quite hear it yourself. In the case of the latter, the people who can hear it when you can’t are bitter, hysterical old hags, fit to be bullied and flamed into supporting the party’s favorite son.
    The difference between message and a dog whistle is that you only hear the latter when its convenient. Its practically a euphemism for “the message my opponent isn’t sending, but that I wish he would send, so I could beat up on him and look good by comparison.”
    Stones, glass houses; pot, kettle; take your pick.

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