Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Cult Of Personality

Too often, we talk of the "cult of personality" in negative terms: the pampered athlete who has feet of clay, or the politician or cultural authority who manipluates his or her audience to become slavishly addicted to his or her tastes (usually promoting a particular brand or style).


SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The University of Notre Dame is sticking with its invitation to President Obama to speak at its May 17 commencement despite criticism from some Roman Catholics that his views on abortion and stem cell research run counter to Catholic teachings.

"I don't foresee a circumstance in which we would rescind the invitation," Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown told The Associated Press in an e-mail message Monday.

The Cardinal Newman Society, an advocacy group for greater orthodoxy on Catholic college and university campuses, calls Obama's commencement appearance "an outrage and a scandal." It has set up a Web site seeking donations and signatures for a petition to protest the invitation to the Obama.

The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, issued a statement Monday saying the invitation did not mean the university supports all of Obama's positions.

"The invitation to President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life, including abortion and embryonic stem cell research," Jenkins said.

American Catholics have a dilemma, to be sure. On the one hand, the basis for their entire church is a cult of personality based on the concept that the Pope, the church leader, is a descendant of Saint Peter, blessed by both Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary. This trinity, encorpsed in the Pope, makes rules and issues edicts (they call them bulls) that the church membership is required to follow, or risk damnation.
On the other hand, there's Barack Obama, who offers his own vision of peace and spiritual renewal. The trouble is, these messages, even tho based on similar faiths and beliefs, conflict in the details.
And here is where Obama's personality and persuasion comes into play. His ability to understand and even give a nod to the opposing forces while laying out a persuasive argument for his point of view is at once disarming and plays the cards he has been dealt his way. Opponents like Rush Limbaugh have no choice but to play on his ballfield, with his bat and ball and even his gloves. He can reconcile abortion and pregnancy prevention and stem cell research with a belief in the tenets of Christ's teachings and that will attract Christians to his message. He doesn't have to get into a spitball war with Rome. Or anyone else, for that matter.
It's driving his opponents crazy. Obama has at once lifted himself above the fray while encouraging the fray using surrogates. The more conservatives focus on Obama's miscues and teleprompters, the more the American people will understand that the GOP offers no rational alternative at this time, that they are spinning their wheels waiting for an opportunity to seize the upper hand on an issue of substance.
For now, they will be forced to conjure substance out of issues that are mostly style, and it is a style that they neither comprehend nor can combat. Indeed, Obama has been cherry-picking where and what he pitches to the American people carefully, and has carefully managed to give the image of an indefatigable leader who can both multitask and focus down on issues and circumstances. He takes a very broad view of situations, rather than be reflexive and reactive.
Like a certain Texan ex-president I can mention.
Listen, when the only real miscue a man makes in a week of intense media scrutiny is an ill-conceived one-off about the Special Olympics and bowling and the victims of that joke can laugh along with him, you have the makings of an unbeatable administration.
(side note: Personally, I would have said "like a Girl Scout," which would have been funnier)
This won't last. Programs Obama has proposed will fail. Even he admits it. In an economy as disatrous as this one, one that affects not just America but the world as a whole, it would take a miracle for every program to fall into place perfectly.
Maybe the Pope can help here.