Barack Obama criticized over ‘cult-like’ rallies

Telegraph – William Lowther in Washington – February 23, 2008  

For many it is simply a sign of his charisma. But for a growing number of Barack Obama sceptics, there is something disturbing about the adulation with which the senator and Democratic presidential frontrunner is greeted as he campaigns for the White House – unnervingly akin to the hysteria of a cult, or the fervour of a religious revival.

Thousands wait in line to see him wherever he stops. Members of the audience have taken to rushing the stage during campaign rallies, forcing the public-address announcer to plead with them to back off.

A brilliant speaker, Mr Obama often uses the rhetorical trick of rapidly repeating words and slogans and using catchy phrases that tend to attract young Americans, while having very little substance.

Favourites include the call: “We are the hope of the future. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Dr Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and stern critic of the current administration of George W.Bush, said: “What’s troubling about the campaign is that it’s gone beyond hope and change to redemption.”

When Oprah Winfrey endorsed Mr Obama in Iowa last month she proclaimed: “I believe he is The One.”

At the campaign’s “Camp Obama” – a training programme run ahead of primaries in key states – volunteers are schooled to avoid talking to voters about policy, and instead tell of how they “came” to Obama, just as born-again Christians talk about “coming to Jesus.”

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: “Obama’s people are so taken with their messiah that soon they’ll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings.”

Obama fever has also broken out on the internet – and a rash of new sites has opened, poking gentle fun at the senator’s over-the-top campaign.

One shows him dressed as a pharaoh, another as a sumo wrestler and a third as a Navajo Indian, complete with blue-and-white feathered headdress.

A site called “Is Barack Obama the Messiah?” has a doctored photo of Obama standing on a flight of stairs, Christlike, above an adoring crowd while a ray of light beams from above.

Millions of people have watched a “Yes We Can” video on the internet’s YouTube website, in which celebrities including Scarlett Johansson and the Black Eyed Peas sing the words to an Obama speech in what Mr Brooks describes as “escalating states of righteousness and ecstacy.”

He added: “If that video doesn’t creep out normal working-class voters, then nothing will.”

In Mr Obama’s defence, Robert Caro, historian and biographer of President Lyndon Johnson, said: “Today, attacks on the cult of personality seem really to mean attacks on the ability to make speeches that inspire.

“But you only have to look at crucial moments in the history of our time to see how crucial it was to have a leader who could inspire, who could rally a nation to a standard, who could infuse a country with confidence, to remind people of the justice of a cause.”

Others suggest that the Mr Obama’s opponents are behind the charge that he is encouraging a cult of personality, being otherwise unable to explain how a first-term senator has managed to dazzle his way to the top.

Some blame Hillary Clinton’s campaign – desperate to slow Mr Obama’s momentum – for trying to skewer her opponent with the cult label.

And in a tart dig at Mr Obama, the near-certain Republican presidential candidate John McCain said last week: “I do not seek the presidency on the presumption that I am blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need.”

Mr Obama later told a crowd that he would “take it down a notch.”

But for now the fervour his campaign has generated has been working. He has won the last 10 state caucus and primary elections and as a result has a growing lead in the delegates who will choose the Democratic candidate at the party’s convention in August.

On the most recent count by the authoritative website, Real Clear Politics, Mr Obama has won 1,185 delegates to Mrs Clinton’s 1,024, with each needing 2,025 needed to win the nomination.

The next major test will come on March 4 with the Texas and Ohio primaries, in which a total of 334 delegates are at stake.

Mrs Clinton’s closest advisers have readily admitted that in order to remain a viable candidate she must win both of these elections.

A month ago she was leading in each state by about 20 points, but this weekend Mr Obama drew almost even with her in Texas and had more than halved her lead in in Ohio.

And when Mr Obama eventually takes the platform to rhythmic chants of his mantra-like slogan, “Yes we can, yes we can!” fans swoon with euphoria.

Now critics are quietly voicing the fear that Mr Obama and his campaign have deliberately adopted the tone and tactics of an evangelical preacher, whipping up “Obamamania” at the expense of more serious discussion of policy and government.

There is “something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism” deployed by the black senator and his supporters, observed Joe Klein, the veteran political commentator the first to latch on to the political potency of Bill Clinton, then an obscure Arkansas governor, early in the 1992 White House campaign.

“The message is becoming dangerously self-referential,” he wrote in Time magazine. “The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.”

At no fewer than six of Mr Obama’s recent rallies, young enthusiasts have been so overcome with excitement that they have fainted in front of the stage.

Indeed, fainting has become so common that a team of medical volunteers is ordered to be on hand to treat the victims, and Mr Obama has interrupted his own speeches to give his followers a blow by blow commentary of their recovery.

A senior Obama official, who would talk only on condition of anonymity, told The Sunday Telegraph that the campaign was worried that the cult charges would stick and harm their candidate.

He acknowledged that Mr Obama generated wild enthusiasm and devotion among young fans – most of them voting for the first time – but insisted this was due to the senator’s “charisma and the political inspiration that informs his speeches.”



  1. You just don’t get it yet-but you will soon. The Obama thing isn’t about some cult-like movement. It’s about an idea, and the idea is that it’s time for the citizens of the US (and the entire world) to put elected officals in office who will move us in an entire new direction. Sound idealistic?
    Just sit back and watch. The “Omana Movement” is a classic case of the old quote-“There is nothing more powerful than in idea whose time has come.”

  2. I’m not sure why you purposely capitalized “The One” in Oprah’s quote. If you had written it as “he’s the one”, as it was meant, it would be clear that the expression has no “messianic fervor”. He is simply an extremely popular candidate for people fed up with Clinton’s hypocricy and partisan battles.

  3. i did not understand why ppls are trying to make a shit out of any thing positive this guy is doing?
    i donn really undestand.this is rediculious.
    he has given a mouth to speak with and inspire others and used it properly. so what is wrong with Obama to speak articulately so that others can be inspired and do some thing that they would think that they cant do before?

  4. From the Providence Journal:

    Former state Sen. Gloria Kennedy Fleck, of Warwick, noted the fundraiser’s early hour — guests were told to arrive by 11 a.m.

    “This Sunday we are worshipping at the church of Hillary,” said Fleck.

    What were you saying about a cult?

  5. Obama will help us finally put the culture wars of the 60’s behind us. He is post Baby Boom, and young people are excited to finally get beyond the endless re-fighting of the war in Vietnam, and the war of ex-hippies versus the old Establishment. This is just one of a number of reasons why there is so much excitement surrounding his candidacy. I could explain to you the other reasons for the Obama movement, but then I would have to write a whole article–the article you should have written instead of this one. You need to make the effort to analyze what is going on, rather than pass off insults as analysis.
    What we have in this article is either a deliberate smear job, or else a case where this writer doesn’t have the ability to understand the Obama movement and its appeal, and so is reduced to calling Obama voters cult members.

  6. This is what has become the norm for people like the one who made this post. When you cannot get what others have or do what they do, you criticize them. If that person does or says something that can be interpreted in a negative light, they automatically go with such interpretation even though it is as clear as day that the opposite was meant. There are singers, movie stars and other popular figures that evoke the same kinds of reaction that you talk about happening at Obama’s rallies, but I doubt that you will call that a cult. I do not understand why people like you just don’t see things for what they are and not spread lies and deceive people into seeing things they way you see them. Could it be your hunger for a following? The same thing your criticize Obama for having? Wow, I would have never guessed it… The fact is, after what this country has gone through under the current administration, people are just tired, fed up and really hungry for something different, something new. Millions of people are suffering, suffering because of the current state of the country, the economy, high gas prices, etc, etc, the list goes on. We all hope that a president Obama will at least start to turn things around. So you stop being a hater and seek to un-cloud your vision. You will appreciate it greatly in the future…

  7. Obama supporters keep saying about Obama will move the country in a new direction. What exactly is that new direction? He never qualified ‘Change’. If anyone has a clue, it purely the person’s own perception. He doesn’t address ANY issue other than the ones Hillary Clinton also address and better. That’s why the negative attacks on her. Her team had tried to get them to correct the misrepresentation for period of time and he said her reaction is sudden. His mailer claims that her healthcare plan forces people to buy insurance even if they can’t afford it, and he said it’s true that she forces everyone to buy insurance, without owning up to the ‘even if they can’t afford it’ false claim, on camera. What kind of integrity and good character is that? If he sets a high bar for everyone else but not himself, that alone makes him all talk – bad character. Old politics with a new face. Coining a campaign ‘Change’ when it plainly uses old politics is just like Edward Bernays calling cigarettes ‘Freedom Sticks’ to exploit women in the 1920s. Obama’s got a political science degree, so I’m not surprised he learned skills of propaganda and social engineering, and his such skills are even more sly, definitely surpass all the old politicians he accused corrupt. His campaign is nothing about change except to get young voters vulnerable to his manipulation to change their president to him! His campaign is as much about change as cigaretts has to do with freedom for women from male chauvinism.

  8. >> “Mr Obama often uses the rhetorical trick of rapidly repeating words and slogans and using catchy phrases that tend to attract young Americans, while having very little substance.”

    Oddly enough, recent analysis of the speeches for the 3 primary candidates, shows that Obama actually speaks -MORE- about important issues in his Rallies than either of his opponents. This could simply be because they’re too busy pointing out his lack of ‘issues’, to actually speak about issues. But more likely, Obama is just the person with his finger on the Pulse of America and her Issues.

    Feel free to call it a cult, it obviously is for many people. But don’t be so naive as to assume that just because there’s a cult, that the majority of the people are voting for Obama due to the ‘craze’ vs the ideas/issues.

  9. “Redemption”

    …is not so far off, actually.
    The same criticism applied in this post to Senator Obama would have been applied -in no particular order- to Tom Paine (via Samuel Adams, the Clintonian of his day) Thomas Jefferson (he was rumored to be the Antichrist when he ran) Lincoln, FDR, Robert F. Kennedy; i.e., “American presidents who get remembered for the right reasons.” Remember “Reaganmania?” No?

    To all those who think we poor “O-Bots” are naive, delusional, gullible and easily tapped: Observe your proposed alternatives, ranting, and railing, and dividing.

    Observe yourselves: You are so jaded and cocksure about the depravity of politicians that you don’t realize how you are a part of a broader historical context, that your viewpoints have everything to do with the politics of an era (post-Vietnam), and that an era is coming to an end.

    Why do you think our “messianic” movement began with the grandparents and grandchildren voting again the 45-50somethings in between. I remember one of the first stories to appear in January involved an 84 year old man with tears in his eyes saying that “he could dream, too.”

    I remember another story about thousands of Alaskan citizens walking a mile across a frozen lake to get to a polling station to vote for Obama. If you can read all these stories and not be inspired, but only rail pessimistically against those of us who are, what does that make you?

    We don’t want to roll our eyes and wear T-shirts with an elephant on the front and a donkey on the back, reading: “Screwed either way.” We don’t want to pick the “lesser of two evils”, we want to elect someone who, if he or she screws up, like JFK did over the Bay of Pigs Crisis, will at least be able to take the responsibility for screwing up on their own shoulders. We’d rather be screwed on an open policy than in a back room deal. No one is perfect, but lets at least TRY.

  10. update: via “Samuel Adams” should read “John Adams”, Samuel Adams would have been at the D.C. rally with his Obama 2008 jacket on and his lighter in the air.

  11. ZF, It seems to me that you are so full of preconceived notions about Obama that you don’t even bother to pay attention to his policies (found on, his pronouncements, his books, the debates and where ever else he makes his intentions known. Here are a few examples of the change Obama says he wants to bring, and notice that it is not my perception, Obama will not give halliburton no more no-bid contracts, in case you have not heard, they moved their headquarters to the middle east, he will fully invest in America’s children from an early age, so they have a better chance at succeeding in school. He will make it possible for many many more people to go to college by providing them with grants in return for service. He will end the stalemate between the US and many other countries around the world brought on by the current government. GW and his administration says they will not talk to some countries if they do not first do what the his administration feels they should do. Let’s explore this one a bit further–you tell me, if someones wants something from you and they demand that you do something before they talk to you about getting the something that they want from you, how likely is it that you will do that something, after all they are the one that want it right? Libya gave up their nuclear ambition, and it was not because they gave into G W demands before the US talked to them. North Korea is cooperating to dismantle their weapons, again, it was not because they gave into US demands before they were talked to or met with. Obama will give the troupes the care they need and deserve because he actually support the troupes. Obama will reduce the cost of health care so most can afford it, and if you cannot afford it, you will get a tax credit to buy it. On poverty, you go study where Obama came from, he came from poverty, so he understands the issues concerning poverty more than any of the other candidates in the race, he will best deal with it. The list goes on, just check out his website, you will see there that he addresses the issues you claim he is not addressing. It seems to me that a lot of the people who are accusing Obama of not addressing issues and that he is all talk are so lazy, extremely lazy, that they do not even want to spend a few minutes to research. They want to be spoon fed everything. I can go on and on, but I will stop here. The other argument that people level against Obama is he perceived lack of experience, but before you make a post about that, please read the following article and you will see that Obama has much more legislative experience than Hillary Clinton. After you read it, I would be interested in your reply then.

    There you go, happy reading.

  12. @koreanpower999:
    Whether it was YOU who capitalised “The One” or the Telegraph, it doesn’t matter. What matters is simply that Oprah herself intended… not a writer trying to make a story. For instance, look at the CNN article entitled “Winfrey tells Iowa crowd: Barack Obama is ‘the one'”:
    If you read the full quote, she says quite clearly: “We need a president who can bring us all together,” she said. “I know [Barack Obama] is the one.” People who write articles like this run the risk of creating the same nod your head” syndrome they may be criticizing when they begin “spinning” information, hoping no one will catch it.

  13. In order to answer his critics, Obama definitely needs to tone it down. Not because he has no substance, but because of the appearance of no substance. I would tend to agree with posters who are saying he actually has MORE substance in his speeches. Taking it down a notch will gainthe vote of the serious voter who is not swayed by emotional arguments.

  14. The writer of this article bases his views of Senator. Obama on misconception and on Hillary’s mudslinging. Perhaps you should delve into the Senate records of Mr. Obama and Hillary.
    Here are their lelgislative differences:
    “Senator Clinton has based her campaign on an erroneous claim to greater legislative and administrative experience. Former President Clinton talks up her role in his administration on the campaign trail but pointedly refuses to release any documents that would provide greater details on her actual activities there. It is broadly understood that Hillary spearheaded the response team that staved off Republican attacks and spun the many scandals of the Clinton years. As to her Senate record, no one in the press has had the diligence to lay out her record for the public to assess.

    Senator Clinton, who has served only one full term (6yrs.), and another year campaigning, has managed to author and pass into law, (20) twenty pieces of legislation in her first six years.
    These bills can be found on the website of the Library of Congress (, but to save you trouble, I’ll post them here for you.

    1. Establish the Kate Mullany National Historic Site.
    2. Support the goals and ideals of Better Hearing and Speech Month.
    3. Recognize the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
    4. Name courthouse after Thurgood Marshall.
    5. Name courthouse after James L. Watson.
    6. Name post office after Jonn A. O’Shea.
    7. Designate Aug. 7, 2003, as National Purple Heart Recognition Day.
    8. Support the goals and ideals of National Purple Heart Recognition Day.
    9. Honor the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton on the bicentennial of his death.
    10. Congratulate the Syracuse Univ. Orange Men’s Lacrosse Team on winning the championship.
    11. Congratulate the Le Moyne College Dolphins Men’s Lacrosse Team on winning the championship.
    12. Establish the 225th Anniversary of the American Revolution Commemorative Program.
    13. Name post office after Sergeant Riayan A. Tejeda.
    14. Honor Shirley Chisholm for her service to the nation and express condolences on her death.
    15. Honor John J. Downing, Brian Fahey, and Harry Ford, firefighters who lost their lives on duty.

    Only five of Clinton’s bills are more substantive.

    16. Extend period of unemployment assistance to victims of 9/11.
    17. Pay for city projects in response to 9/11
    18. Assist landmine victims in other countries.
    19. Assist family caregivers in accessing affordable respite care.
    20. Designate part of the National Forest System in Puerto Rico as protected in the wilderness preservation system.

    There you have it, the facts straight from the Senate Record.
    Now, I would post those of Obama’s, but the list is too substantive, so I’ll mainly categorize. During the first (8) eight years of his elected service he sponsored over 820 bills. He introduced

    233 regarding healthcare reform,
    125 on poverty and public assistance,
    112 crime fighting bills,
    97 economic bills,
    60 human rights and anti-discrimination bills,
    21 ethics reform bills,
    15 gun control,
    6 veterans affairs and many others.

    His first year in the U.S. Senate, he authored 152 bills and co-sponsored another 427. These included:
    **the Coburn-Obama Government Transparency Act of 2006 (became law),
    **The Lugar-Obama Nuclear Non-proliferation and Conventional Weapons Threat Reduction Act, (became law),
    **The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, passed the Senate,
    **The 2007 Government Ethics Bill, (became law),
    **The Protection Against Excessive Executive Compensation Bill, (In committee), and many more.

    In all since enter the U.S. Senate, Senator Obama has written 890 bills and co-sponsored another 1096. An impressive record for someone who supposedly has no record according to the spin meisters and mindless twits. I challenge Clinton supporters to name a single legislative accomplishment that demonstrates her superior experience.” Posted by: Mark | February 4, 2008 9:39 PM

    Senator Obama is a DOER; Hillary is a SLACKER!

  15. Hillary Clinton is so envious, angry, and resentful that American citizens are not handing her the Office of the Presidency on a silver platter. Whe came into this contest as “the inevitable candidate”. She thought she would have the nomination by the end of super Tuesday. She did not plan beyond that, that is how certain she was about her inevitability. She spent the major part of $130 million in Iowa tyring to convince Iowa how “likeable” she was. She spent so much money on her Hill-a-copter tours and all her other Hill-a-this, Hill-a-that. She spent almost a million dollars on sandwich trays at the caucuses. In short, she thought she could BUY Iowa. When Iowa delivered its results: #1 – Senator Obama; #2 – Mr. Edwards, #3 – Hillary; Hillary went into shock and has remained in a virtual state of shock since. She simply cannot believe or accept that she is not “inevitable”. So, she, Bill, and their campaign went digressed into the old poliitics of slash-and-burn tactics. As time goes on, she gets nastier and nastier.

    I would much rather go with the candidate of HOPE than the candidate of SLIME. I would much rather go with the candidate who emplifies good character, integrity, honesty, wisdom, good judgement, and outstanding leadership and management skills. I cannot support a candidate of bitterness, a candidate who has proven herself to be sorely lacking in good character, integrity, honesty, wisdeom, good judgement, leadership and management skills. All anyone needs to do id look at the big difference in how these two candidates have run their campaigns! Senator Obama has run a superior campaign, second to none. Hillary’s campaign has been and is a train wreck.

    Of great concern is Hillary’s metamorphis from one persona to another, depending on the moment. Does anyone KNOW who Hillary is? Does she??

  16. I truly valued your post. I’m not one to ordinarily comment, but I felt really motivated to let you know.
    I even ended up sharing this on my blog!

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