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Obama and the end of the world

Greg Yatarola | Monday, March 17, 2008

Ever since I got this column, I’ve wanted to write about Barack Obama. At first, I wanted to praise him for being so positive and staying above the harsh rhetoric common to ambitious politicians. As a conservative (well, mainly), I wanted to express my gratitude for the fact that he, from what I could tell, didn’t hate me. It was so nice to see such a prominent Democrat refrain from constantly accusing Republicans of hating poor people/old people/little people/Mexicans/blacks/Muslims/gays/women/children/polar bears/etc. I found his warmth and charm a pleasant contrast to his main rival, who I bet would like to bite my face off and eat my brain. Even his name’s cool. So duped was I that I nurtured the hope that his ultra-liberal voting record was just a means to get the nomination, and that once elected he’d govern as a moderate.

By the time I’d submitted articles I considered higher-priority, though, the “Look – this guy’s not a shrill partisan jerk!” story was old news. Even important conservatives had written glowingly about Illinois’ junior senator, or at least as glowingly as they could about a liberal, and not just because they enjoyed seeing someone giving the Clintons problems.

My next Obama idea was more about his supporters. Friends who follow politics carefully began telling me about the more ridiculous aspects of Obama mania – people actually fainting at his rallies, describing their “coming to Obama” conversions, making creepily propagandist YouTube videos, etc. By then, I’d realized his campaign was just a bunch of hot air, and that his movement was mainly a pop-culture phenomenon, a shallow fad. I found it especially amusing that most of his support, aside from black voters, was coming from the highly-educated – the last group you’d expect to fall for smooth empty oratory (unless you’re cynical about contemporary higher education, like me). I thought of Santino’s question to Michael, whether he’d gone to college to get stupid.

Once again, though, I was the last lion to the kill. Poking fun at the over-the-top-ness of Obama hype had become a common theme, as had criticism of his message as vacuous. So I’d decided to forget about him, and was thinking of writing an advice piece for seniors about how to enter the white-collar world (item: if the office go-to girl comes to your cubicle seeking a donation for an AIDS charity, don’t ask whether she’d contracted it). Then I saw the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

At first I thought it was a parody. It’s gotta be, right? Then I realized it wasn’t, and I was reminded of a book by the great Russian Orthodox mystic/theologian, Vladimir Soloviev. In it, the leaders of the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant faiths go to meet a mysterious, popular world leader, who’s promised to usher in a new order of peace and universal brotherhood and all that good stuff. All his words are spirit and light, and there’s even hushed speculation in some quarters about whether he could be Our Lord come back to earth, or maybe a man who’d prepare for His return, like a second St. John the Baptist. I think it was the Protestant who, in their meeting with the great man, realized with horror that he was none other than the Antichrist.

Before you think I’m totally nuts, wait. I don’t believe Barack’s the Antichrist. Even if biotech developments – human cloning’s inevitability, recent creation of embryonic human-animal hybrids, etc. – make me believe time’s near its end, there’s still much that must happen before the man of sin appears. Besides, there’s a goofiness about Obama and his cult that won’t be found with the Antichrist. But there’s a point – and I think we’ve reached it with Obama – where grossly unmerited adulation and adoration stops being funny, and starts being sinister. And there’s a point too where a man can no longer deny responsibility for the cult-like following he’s gained. Even though I’m deeply cynical, rarely surprised at man’s capacity for self-love and little shocked by any suggestion that most people end up damned, I still think normal people would be at least a bit bothered by the veneration Obama’s received. Remember Monty Python’s Brian? I’m conceited myself, and I was sickened by my own surprise graduation party. But Obama seems perfectly comfortable being treated like a god. And I believe it takes a special, especially evil, man to accept such worship.

With the ongoing On-Eagle’s-Wings-ification of the Church, many Catholics consider the idea of the Antichrist an embarrassing anachronism. That’s one reason he’ll manage to gain power. Those who do still look for his entry into history are likely to expect a bloodthirsty savage riding a chariot of human skulls. That’s another reason he’ll fool so many, for he’ll be more Lennon than Lenin.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty about Obama’s politics I consider profoundly evil. For instance, his opposition to laws protecting babies born in botched abortions (amazing how the little stinkers resist being chopped up). Indeed, the odiousness of his positions is one reason he keeps his speeches away from pesky specifics and policy. But it’s his ability to inspire religious fanaticism toward himself, and his delight in it, which I find most disturbing, even chilling. And it’s these features of his candidacy that I think will be of most lasting significance.

Greg Yatarola is a 1999 alumnus. His address is gregpy@hotmail.com. He wishes Notre Dame would drop the charade and just give the Laetare to Ted Kennedy.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.