Listening to David Maraniss speak on Monday about his experiences while writing a biography of Barack Obama, or Barry Obama as he would say, was a pleasant yet slightly underwhelming event. The Q&A session was slightly more eventful than the actual talk, especially when certain questions from the audience began to elicit defensive answers from Maraniss. The questions ranged from inquiries about Obama’s transcript to insinuations that Maraniss’s book has fueled the so-called “cult of Obama,” the latter comment intriguing me the most. Maraniss responded by saying that in all the insults he had ever received about his book, he had never before heard any mention of a “cult of Obama.” It was a rather awkward exchange between audience member and speaker.
While Maraniss immediately shot down the possibility of the existence of this personality cult, my quick and dirty research of the subject revealed that it is mostly a term tossed around by conservatives who are looking for a reason as to why Obama supporters still passionately rally around him. As we have talked about many times in class, this election should technically be Romney’s for the taking because of what little Obama has done for the economy.
Here are a few quotations about the hysterical fervor some believe Obama has created among his supporters:
“‘I drank a little bit of the kool-aid initially,’ he sighed, referring of the cult of personality around the candidate four years ago. “It looked different than any other president, sounded different than any other president, and then he acted the same as all the other presidents.”
—Tom Morello, guitarist and political activist
“Obama’s capacity to elicit an extra-rational, hyper-emotional response from his supporters has long infuriated his critics—on both right and left.”
—Richard Kim, writer for The Nation
“[There is only] just, as always, a cult of personality that tries to make President Obama into someone larger-than-life, a rock star personality, a Hollywood politician starring in his own endless reality show.”
—Rosa Corona, contributing writer to Forbes
“It’s a disturbing level of “cult of personality” politics that rivals giant posters of Chairman Mao in town squares.”
—Derek Hunter, writer for The New York Daily News
The most passionate people in this perceived personality cult believe that it’s Obama, or no one, for president. It can be argued that every politician has a fan base that worships him or her, but Obama’s followers have taken center stage this election year and also in 2008. Personality in general has played a huge role in the campaign trail this year more than ever, which makes the existence of a cult not exactly hard to believe.
So, how legitimate was that journalist’s question about Maraniss’s book contributing to this personality cult? While it’s difficult to give a definitive answer without having read the book, it is safe to say that a novel that discusses the uplifting story of America’s first black president has the potential to excite masses of Obama followers.