Open Letter Re: Personality Cults

by matttbastard

Via Alison @ The BeavPSA can suck my ass:

I’ve not had much to say in the last few weeks because my lack of faith in the Obama juggernaut has been, it appears, heretical. I’ve not been feeling too welcome or encouraged to share my opinion. So a few snips aside, I’ve kept to myself. And fair enough, I understand that after the long years of George Bush, anything that isn’t a complete waste of skin will seem like a glorious leader. But I just can’t get over the disconnect of people in one breath hailing the conquering hero and appending their gushes of praise by noting that in reality Obama lies somewhere to the right of Steve Harper on the political spectrum. Hello? Anyone in there?

The grand transformation that is sweeping America this electoral season comes down to the ability of a black candidate to be seen as electable. Alas, in the year 2008 that is the great American step forward and it speaks volumes about the hidebound ignorance and undercurrents of racism that still underpin much of America. Both Islamic Pakistan and mostly Hindu India have had women as heads of state. America’s great achievement and signal of progress is that one of their parties was willing to put forward either a woman or a black man as Presidential candidate. Forgive me not joining in the rapturous applause at the sight of the world’s most well armed nation reluctantly joining the modern world.

Ok, look. I’m not going to let some fucking lefter-than-thou litmus test be used as a cruel means to piss on the joy–the absolute, unfettered joy–that my friends in the US, many of whom now living in blue states for the first time in their lives, are reveling in. This is bigger than a mere ‘personality cult’, bigger than even President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama.

To many around the world, it is the symbolic end of the Sept 11th era.

Sure, the sensation may be fleeting, illusory. But it is a whole lot better than what we’ve had over the past 10 years (if not the past 40). And we deserve a bit of hope after so many years in the wilderness.

Plus, speaking as a person of colour, I reserve my hard-earned birth-right to be absolutely fucking gobsmacked that America has a black president (a black president!) It is, as many of my fellow POC have said, something I never expected to see in my lifetime.

Once again, as Leonard Pitts, Jr said today in his Miami Herald column,

For most of the years of the American experiment, “we the people” did not include African Americans. We were not included in “we.” We were not even included in ‘‘people.”What made it galling was all the flowery words to the contrary, all the perfumed lies about equality and opportunity. This was, people kept saying, a nation where any boy might grow up and become president. Which was only true, we knew, as long as it was indeed a boy and as long as the boy was white.

But as of today, we don’t know that anymore. What this election tells us is that the nation has changed in ways that would have been unthinkable, unimaginable, flat out preposterous, just 40 years ago. And that we, black, white and otherwise, better recalibrate our sense of the possible.

So, with all due respect to PSA and his precious undiluted ideological purity, fuck the hell off with the self-righteous killjoy routine. I’ll post whatever the fuck I want and keep doing so, whether you like it or not. Is that too ’emotional’, not ‘intellectual’ enough for you?


Watch as I strain to shed a single tear.

Update: Dr. Prole weighs in:

And about those haters: stop insulting my intelligence with your sour grapes, nihilistic purity trolling. I’ve got work to do, and so should YOU if you’re going to do something, anything, besides sit around and bitch and moan about the state of the world and how imperfect it is. So get off your ass, fat or otherwise, and get to work or shut your fucking pie hole. Last I checked, your opposition parties could use a substantial shot in the arm. What have you done, besides type furiously to anyone but your MP, MLA, mayor or city council? I mean, there have been massive fucking missives written against Obama, surely you have time. Huh? What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? It’s not coming, so stop waiting, stop whining and crash the goddam gate.

Most politicians only understand two things: votes and money. Money can mean cash, or it can mean volunteering, boots on the ground stuff, which translates into votes. Capice?

Shark-fu nails it:

I’m going to relish this indescribable feeling today…allow my soul to fill with the emotion of knowing that my Father, may he rest in peace, would be so thrilled that he lived to witness this…and let my sore as hell feet heal a bit (wince).

But tomorrow we begin again.

President Elect Obama inherits a towering mass of drama and the daunting task of dealing with it.

And our work…the work of social justice…begins today.

Elections give us tools that we call politicians. It is our job to use the hell out of them…to hold them accountable and to work with them to bring about change.

So get your party on, y’all.

Update 2: Chet destroys the ‘personality cult’ smear (h/t pale via IM):

[O]ne of the most scurrilous falsehoods out there was that Obama’s supporters resembled a cult of some sort. Despite the fact that Obama kept insisting that the election was not really about him but about the people, some skeptics just kept repeating this distortion. Some probably still are. But no, it really wasn’t only about Obama himself. The enthusiasm came from the fact that as a public figure and campaigner he managed to tap into a deep well in American culture. His candidacy was built on a combination of the can-do Horatio Alger story at a time of general hardship, and the traditional New Deal empathy at the heart of the Democratic party, and the chance to overcome the deep wound of racism that defines much of American public life. These things matter, and if they seem irrational it’s only because they represent the basic axioms from which a larger political program can now be derived. As far as his policies go, he’s been plenty specific about them, but before you can put them into place, you’ve got to win, and before you do that you have to get people on side. As Jean Chretien once put it, “When you have power, then you can do stuff.” Obama’s path to power had nothing to do with a cult, and everything to do with shared communal ideas and principles. But you need a spark, a focal point, and a voice to help turn those ideas into action. Obama had the right qualities to be those things, and he knew it. But he also knows that that’s all he is, and so do his supporters.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers


15 thoughts on “Open Letter Re: Personality Cults

  1. So many are missing the point. The energy. The focus.
    Harper lost his wittle friend. A historic night, and the killjoys can go for a flying fig.


  2. Well, Mister Three Tees, you say it much more clearly than I did! Thanks for the clarity and the energy and the joy.

    This election was about so much more than pure intellect — it was about the heart and soul, the body and spirit of a nation — and that is something which those who live only in their heads, as the patriarchy has so well taught, will have difficulty understanding.

    What joy to see the US of A finally *get* it!


  3. You nailed it Matt. In a leaked memo from the British ambassador in Washington to Whitehall, sir Nigel assessed Obama as a “true liberal.” Enough said.


  4. Excellent post, Mattt!

    Frankly, I’m amazed that you had the energy to write it after that sustained emotional roller-coaster we’ve all gone through in the past few months. For myself, all I want to do is sit back and breathe for awhile. No multi-tasking, like combining moving or thinking with the breathing.

    “To many around the world, it is the symbolic end of the Sept 11th era.”

    Oh, man, I so hope you’re right about that!


  5. dm: as mentione4d in the last post, I drank myself silly last night @ the DA party. So glad I had the foresight to book today off. :-P

    MoS: Indeed. Key word: “liberal.” ;-)

    chimera: pure adrenaline, my friend. Even the fumes are spent.

    mags!!11 how have you been?!


  6. Well put, matttbastard.

    I, for one, am damn sick of pure, unadulterated cynicism being the only way to be taken seriously in some intellectual circles, especially as I’m suddenly being called a naive idealist by people six and seven years younger than I am. Because pessimistic negativity has gotten us so far in the past.


  7. Yeah. It’s gotten us 3 straight minority governments (two of them conservative) and stagnant poll numbers.

    Wee. Democracy as sullen teenagers hangin’ in the smoke pit.


  8. Mattt:

    I agree that psa’s timing was off. You don’t get all sober and thoughtful during a time of wild celebration. You don’t criticize the groom’s hair at a wedding, or point out that he’s still looking for work. You don’t say nasty things about the dear departed during a funeral. It was rude.


    I looked at the video of all of those happy, joyful people in Grant Park again today, and my first thought was, “Don’t you let them down, you son of a bitch.”

    Obama’s positions on things, after all, are generally conservative (gay marriage, foreign wars, FISA, health care, death penalty). But that wasn’t what all this was about. His election was a transition, a tipping-point, opening up the possibility of a non-racialised America. People could feel it.

    Obama himself? A creature of the machine, like everyone else. And those supporters caught up in the ecstatic binarism that is American politics are probably already rubbing their eyes.

    But it was a magic moment. None of the foregoing stopped me from leaping to my feet in a local bar and cheering when the projection was announced–and buying a round for everyone in the place. : )


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