The Obama campaign never sold Obama; it sold the idea of Obama
The Cult of Obama
The Corporate Cult evolved in the United States as a hybrid of the sales force of the corporation and the religious devotion of the cult. This type of entity might be a cult like Scientology, which used the aggressive and organized sales tactics and marketing campaigns of a corporation, or it could be a corporation like Apple, whose employees earn little, but feel a sense of satisfaction at being part of a meaningful entity.
The Obama Campaign is a fantastic marketing machine. It is constantly discovering new ways to sell things to people. But the problem is that it has no actual product. A company that goes corporate cult uses some of the tactics of a cult to inflate the value of its product. But a cult has no product except the sense of satisfaction that comes from being in the cult. The only things it sells are images of its leader, emblazoned everywhere, his books, speeches and photos, and these are used as tokens of membership in the cult.
In retrospect, the Cult of Obama had much in common with other cults. Like them it recruited young volunteers on campus. Its recruitment materials leaned heavily on books by its beloved leader. It promised them that a new age was coming and that they could be a big part of bringing it about. And its vector of introduction to older viewers was through a woman who has been accused of promoting cults on her popular television show.
Strip away the politics, forget the push and pull of the election issues, wipe the polar identities of the parties from your minds and take a fresh look at the 2008 campaign. Then compare the pitch to any of the major cults in the seventies and eighties. There really isn’t all that much of a difference. They’re all “Transformative” movements that promise to solve society’s problems by using new insights to create a wave of change that begins with “us”.
Even the political angle isn’t new. Jim Jones and his murderous child-abusing cult started out as community organizers for California Democrats, and leading politicians, including saintly hero Harvey Milk, covered for his crimes until the whole thing got too big and Jones got too crazy. Long before Obama, Lyndon LaRouche went the campus cult route and if you are morbidly curious, you can find videos where “LaRouche Youth”, who have broken ties with their families and friends, shout insane slogans while their glazed eyes stare fixedly into the camera.
The pitch is “Transformative” but it isn’t the world that is being transformed, only the participants, and the method of transformation is constant labor and omnipresent awareness of the program. That is where the Cult of Obama’s retention efforts fell through. Successful cults maintain control over a core cadre and use them to expand their base, but projects like Americorps did not come close to meeting those goals.
The corporate part of the Corporate Cult deals with adversity by redoubling the sales pitch. If sales fall, it finds more things to sell. The Obama Campaign is insanely intensifying its sales efforts, without understanding that its sales are falling because the value of the brand is failing. Many cult survivors dropped out during a similar phase when the cult supervisors pressured them to increase sales and recruitment, even as the cult was no longer relevant. When the history of this campaign is written, we will likely discover that the people on the inside were being just as ruthlessly pressured to achieve impossible goals to compensate for the failings of their candidate.
When businesses hysterically deluge you with offerings for their product, it’s a sign of fear. Obama’s campaign rolling out invitations to dinner with him and suggestions that you use your wedding to raise money for him stinks of that same fear. It’s ingenious from a marketing standpoint, but from that same standpoint, it’s also a bad tactic. The last thing that a company or a campaign wants to do is wear people out. But that is exactly what Obama is accomplishing by burning through his base for a short-term cash grab, when what he really needs is to have those people committed to him at the end.
Obama’s people are clever, but not good, which is a common combination at dot com companies that go under when the trend passes them by. The Obama trend has long since gone and no one is all that excited about another four years. Like Steve Jobs debuting one more feature, the campaign has doled out gay marriage and the DREAM Act to gets its base excited about another four years. But it still isn’t excited. These are features that it expected years ago and it’s not in the mood to work itself up into a frenzy over finally getting them.
This is the part where the marketing consultants spend six months on a study and inform the company that their brand is done and has to either be retired or salvaged through a high-profile campaign that will reinvent it as cutting edge. But when your brand is a man, how do you reinvent him? And when your brand is “Transformative Politics” and even your staunchest supporters don’t feel like anything has been transformed, how do you move the product?
Cults shift the burden of failure from the guru and the program to the participants. It isn’t the man or the idea that failed, but the people.
There are the outside enemies who make enlightenment impossible. “How very much I’ve tried my best to give you a good life. But in spite of all of my trying a handful of our people, with their lies, have made our lives impossible,” Jim Jones said at Jonestown. That is the epilogue of the Obama campaign. The one being scripted for him by the media.
Like Jim Jones, Obama has done his best to give us a good life, but the Republicans, FOX News, the Supreme Court, the Koch Brothers and powerful interests have sabotaged his efforts with their lies. And yet in the end it’s not the enemies who bear the final burden, but the people who weren’t good enough.
Cults demand more and more from their followers to impose upon them an unreasonable and unshakeable burden of guilt. The cult appeals to those who want to make more of their lives, and it destroys their will by making them feel like failures. The Obama campaign’s endless demands of its followers have that tenor as well. Behind all the flowery words, the burden of responsibility is being shifted from his people to his supporters.
The cult frames everything in terms of commitment. What begins as a commitment to personal and global transformation becomes a commitment to the demands of the cult. The commitment is meant to be mutual, and it is occasionally even framed in terms of a marriage.
“In all our years of marriage, he’s always looked out for me. Now, I see that same commitment every day to you and to this country,” Michelle Obama’s campaign mailing says. “The only way we’ll win this election is if we can rely on one another like that.”
The commitments, of course, aren’t mutual. They can’t be. The disparity in power is too great. The cult exists for the sake of the leader, but the leader does not exist for the sake of the cult. Once the followers realize this, the illusion of mutual commitment breaks down. And to keep them from realizing it, the cult strives to make them feel that they have not lived up to their commitment.
The cult intrudes into personal and marital relationships because it cannot allow any commitment to dwarf the greater commitment. That is why cults will arrange marriages and control whom members may marry. It may command divorces or just solicit donations to its cause at a wedding. It acts as if it knows no boundaries, but, in truth, it is setting its own boundaries. It is claiming the intimate territory of personal relationships as its own.
And yet all this only works for as long as the transformative illusion endures. When the sense that the commitment to the cult is not transformative, that the principles of its program cannot make a better world, then its power fades away and dies. The cult may amp up its marketing, but the only product that it ever truly had was intangible.
The Obama campaign never sold Obama; it sold the idea of Obama
The Obama campaign never sold Obama; it sold the idea of Obama. The illusion that was more than the sum of his false biography, his chin up speeches full of momentous pauses and stolen poetry, or the typography of his posters. It was the sense of imminence, the perception of a transformative figure who could change the country and the world. That magnetic tug wasn’t Obama, it was the confused mess of desires, fears, hopes, dreams and wishes that the people were encouraged to project onto him.
The essential product of every cult is the promise of global transformation through personal transformation. Years later, few people can say that their lives are any better, and while many are still willing to echo Jim Jones and blame that on outside enemies, there is no real faith that the program can work.
Whether or not Obama wins again, his cult has failed. It failed because it was not able to deliver on its promises of transformation, nor was it able to place the blame on its followers. Most of those who voted for Obama will drink the Kool-Aid one more time, but there will be little enthusiasm in the drinking of it.