“I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face of your T.V.”
-Cult of Personality, Living Color
” Standing above the crowd,
He had a voice that was strong and loud and I
Swallowed his facade cuz I’m so
Eager to identify with
Someone above the ground,”
Sorry to start out with song lyrics but I thought these two songs were so powerfully relevant to what I want to address. For my entire adult life I have seen a tendency towards extreme reactions to public figures. The penultimate example being Hillary Clinton. Her detractors have loathed her even when she reaches out her hand to them, and her admirers sing her praises even when she utterly betrays the principles they say guided them to her. I suppose that has always been true of those in the public sphere, especially those that have any opinion and/or influence on public policy. In a world of mass media they need to become a message rather than have plans and of course those that do not like the message will have some of their own.
Right now we have a President in the United States who may have surpassed Secretary Clinton in her ability to polarize, and he manages to do it across diverse groups. Despite so many compromises on important issues the conservatives in this country hurl nothing but invective at him. It is not just the fringe element of the right either. Everything President Obama does is poison in the eyes of the right.
Similarly on the left there are those who look at his decisions as an utter betrayal regardless of the fact that he campaigned as a centrist (really a center-rightist if you look at the broader view, but whatever.) Repeal DADT? Not fast enough! Put up resistance to the rising tide of anti-women, anti-reproductive health fanaticism? He should do more! Do not even get me started on TARP, which both groups hate and did not really happen on his watch.
Then, of course, we have the flip side, and I think they may be worse. His acolytes see any criticism as either right wing extremism or left wing whining. Any criticism. They ignore a health care law that is a hand out to the health insurance industries. They ignore his continuing of Bush policies that three years ago they screamed threatened the fabric of our society. They ignore the appointment of people heavily invested in the financial industry to police its actions. Question any of these decisions and you are labeled a moron at best and a traitor at worst. Yes, they use the words “dissent” and “treason” especially when it is the left daring to besmirch the perfection of their chosen one.
The more I reflect, the more I believe it has nothing to do with a need to follow. I do not think people are week sheep. I do not believe people are incapable of independent thought. I do suspect they are moral cowards. If they are not the ones making decisions, if they are just marching in lock step with the rest of the crowd, they really are not at fault. It was never their decision, it was somebody else. Well, that thinking was rejected 65 years ago, and I reject it now.