February 7th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Where will President Obama take America?

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Can Australia avoid an economic depression?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Australia should brace itself for worse to come

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Blatant political bias in human rights body

JUDICIARY: High Court nominee's gay rights, abortion activism

GLOBAL TERRORISM: The great lie of 'home-grown' terrorism

QUARANTINE: Shake-up for Australia's quarantine system

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Being smart about using soft power

MEDIA: What to make of the Obama cult

OPINION: Is there any point to suffering?

CIVILISATION: Created equal: how Christianity shaped the West

OPINION: Legislative change could help first home-buyers

Should democracy always have the last word? (letter)

Deserted by the Liberals? (letter)

A future for News Weekly (letter)

FORUM: Free markets and libertarianism

CINEMA: Slumdog Millionaire - Indian orphan tale a box-office hit

BOOKS: ENOUGH: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, by John C. Bogle

BOOKS: THE WHITE WAR: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson,

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What to make of the Obama cult

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, February 7, 2009
The media is no longer the independent player, providing objectivity and critical discernment, that it was once supposed to be, laments Bill Muehlenberg.

With the convergence of two things — the inauguration of a left-wing American president and commentary from a sympathetic left-wing mainstream media — one could be forgiven for thinking that the Messiah has in fact arrived on planet Earth.

The personality cult that has arisen over the new President Barack Obama, along with the irrational expectations that these adoring throngs have elevated around him, is really a very worrying spectacle. One recalls similar scenes of almost hypnotic cult worship in recent history, and many of these political demigods turned out to be really bad news for planet earth.

The media was once supposed to be a sort of independent player, providing objectivity and critical discernment. But much of it has lost any such ability, and many in the media are now simply acting like crazed teenyboppers at a Miley Cyrus concert.

I was beginning to wonder if I was the only person left in the world who felt uneasy about all this. But fortunately there seem to be others who have not succumbed to this global frenzy.

A few writers have also noted their amazement at this cult of personality. Let me briefly mention three writers from three continents.

The first, from the United States, offers a bit of balance to my remarks. Mona Charen acknowledges that of course many people are genuinely elated about the new president. Not all this mania is cult worship and adolescent rock-concert hysteria. Many have legitimate hopes and expectations about the new president.

She says: "I did not vote for the man who today becomes the 44th president of the United States, and in fact, advocated for his opponent. But I am not immune to the happiness of those who did support him, particularly African-Americans, and — to slice it a little thinner– particularly older African-Americas who actually lived through the contempt and cruelty of Jim Crow America.

"I do not for a minute deny the symbolic greatness of the moment, and despite my wariness of President Obama's policies, it makes me happy to see so many of my fellow Americans in a celebratory, patriotic mood." (Mona Charen, Townhall.com, January 20, 2009).

But after making these conciliatory remarks, the rest of her column points out some sobering truths about the world we live in, and how Obama will have to come back down to earth and face these tough challenges.

From the United Kingdom, Gerald Warner also asks hard questions, after noting the media hysteria surrounding the inauguration.

He says: "This will end in tears. The Obama hysteria is not merely embarrassing to witness, it is itself contributory to the scale of the disaster that is coming. What we are experiencing, in the deepening days of a global depression, is the desperate suspension of disbelief by people of intelligence ... in a pathetic effort to hypnotise themselves into the delusion that it will be all right on the night. It will not be all right."

He also wonders how all this mass adulation and this new messiah-figure will translate into any genuine change: "It is questionable whether the present political system can survive the coming crisis. Whatever the solution, teenage swooning sentimentality over a celebrity cult has no part in it. The most powerful nation on earth is confronting its worst economic crisis under the leadership of its most extremely liberal politician, who has virtually no experience of federal politics. That is not an opportunity but a catastrophe." (Gerald Warner blog, The Telegraph (UK), January 20, 2009).

Finally, Australian commentator Janet Albrechtsen remarks on the transformation of Obama into semi-divine status: "Sober analysts must be standing aside, wondering about the role of emotion in politics and its implications for critical scrutiny of Obama's presidency. But many other observers have metaphorically cast aside their crutches and accepted that Obama has made them whole again."


She concludes: "Progressive politics is essentially an emotional, rather than rational, pursuit. Its foundations rest on altruistic, even utopian, beliefs about the perfectibility of man and society. For progressives, hope triumphs over experience.

"That causes leftist politicians to place a large premium on myth-making, rhetoric and romance. And leftist journalists swallow it whole. Results matter much less to both of them. That's one reason, for example, that Gough Whitlam is still a demigod to the ALP and to its media adherents.

"In a tough world, however, we will need more from Obama and from his press gallery. What will matter is whether Obama does a good job, not whether he's black, good-looking and speaks well." (The Australian, January 21, 2009).

Hopefully some of the emotion and frenzy will subside, and a bit of rational and objective analysis will emerge.

Let me conclude by saying that of course many people feel genuine happiness over the election of Obama. Many think he is a breath of fresh air. Many think he will bring real change. I do not bemoan such sentiments, although I believe they are in fact mistaken.

Obama got elected by promising change, although he never really spelled out what this change would be. Now he has reality staring him in the face. I do hope he can make a go of it.

But I certainly have no messianic expectations about him, and in fact I tend to fear the worst. Time will tell.

— Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures in ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com

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