Idol?

Barack hope poster

I bet that got your attention.

Back when we had eight candidates tripping over themselves for the Democratic nomination, I was a John Edwards supporter (Kucinich wasn’t viable). I felt that of the major candidates, Edwards’ views and plans most reflected what I wanted to see in a president - and besides, who can resist that charming North Carolina accent?

But I always had room in my heart for Barack Obama, too, ever since his stirring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The night of the Iowa caucuses, even as I mourned Edwards’ distant second-place finish, I watched Obama speak with a warm heart, daring to hope that such a man could give me, for the first time since I started watching CNN, a president I could be proud of. For the first time in my young life, I was witnessing something I had only heard about from my parents - the start of a movement.

Barack Obama continued to grow on me, wooing me with his strong speaking style and kind character, and by the time John Edwards dropped out I was more than willing to jump on board the Obama train. I smile when I see the above image on T-shirts and telephone poles. This isn’t just a political candidate - I’ve been involved in political campaigns for over sixteen years. This is a movement. My generation has its first big hero.

But hold on a second. Barack Obama isn’t a taller, older, Black version of me. He supports a stronger military, which I do not. He opposes same-sex marriage, which I do not. I disagree with him on matters that I consider to be rather significant.

What’s more, Barack Obama is a man. He is fallible. He is as capable of leading us into a disastrous war, robbing us of our civil liberties and alienating the rest of the world as our current president (if not as likely). And the more power you have, the easier it is to make bad decisions. So should we really be putting him up on this pedestal, trumpeting him as some sort of prophet? In fact, isn’t it dangerous for us to put so much faith in one man?

I know this isn’t exactly a term paper. I’m just curious to hear some other thoughts on the matter.


Admin Edit 6/24/08: Added “capable” as corrected in comment #7 below.

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12 Responses to “Idol?”

  1. IsaacV Says:

    Nick, that’s such a compelling picture. It captures our political/cultural moment so succinctly. I don’t think the concern about idolatry is too far off. That same picture inspired a sermon I wrote about a month ago. I didn’t end up preaching it, but you can check it out here: http://www.rustyparts.com/wp/2008/05/04/hope-a-verb-a-sermon-on-politics/

  2. Dan Lais Says:

    RE; Next to last paragraph, third sentence “What’s more, Barack Obama is a man. He is fallible. He is as of leading us into a disastrous war, robbing us of our civil liberties and alienating the rest of the world as our current president (if not as likely).

    Is this a typo? If not help me understand. I to am fallible. Thanks

  3. AmyY Says:

    Since this poster came out, I’ve jokingly referred to it as the “messiah obama.” He’s such a refreshing change as a politician, but we have to be careful not to see him a the answer to all things. He’s just a human.

    I still want him to win but I’m trying not to get all gooey about it. ;)

  4. jdaniel Says:

    I agree we should be careful not to put Obama (or anyone for that matter) on a pedestal. He warned of this himself at a rally I attended in Baltimore a few months ago. I hope he doesn’t forget it (and that we don’t either).

    “I cannot do it by myself.” He challenged the audience saying (approximately), “If the American people elect me and then do not themselves work for change, it won’t happen.” He continued (again approximately), “We love to sit on our couches and complain about politicians, but all of us need to be willing to work and speak (to our congressional leaders) for change if we are to bring it about.”

  5. nicolas Says:

    Dan: It’s not a typo. I’m not trying to make a specific critique of Barack Obama with that point; I’m just reinforcing that he is a man running for office, and we need to remember that it’s not uncommon that we get burned by those men once they’re in office. Case in point, our last president. I’m saying Obama is, as a human being, capable of making mistakes just as grave, and perhaps we should be careful about putting so much faith in him.

    I’m refreshed by the reactions I’m seeing to this post. When I brought it up with my friend Sebastian, who is about the most die-hard Obama loyalist there is, he pretty much flipped out on me.

    Isaac: My next stop is that sermon.

  6. dave Says:

    I still think it is a typo. Shouldn’t it read:

    Barack Obama is a man. He is fallible. He is as CAPABLE of leading us into a disastrous war …

    The “capable” is missing in the post.

  7. nicolas Says:

    Whoops. I re-read that like six times looking for the typo and still didn’t see it. Yes, “capable” is missing - it must have gotten lost in some hack-and-slash of the article I was doing.

  8. somasoul Says:

    I always thought anabaptists thought depending on government and its structures was a mistake.

  9. nicolas Says:

    That’s definitely a traditional anabaptist view - nonresistance, and even non-participation in the electoral system. However, in the living church, that view is not always reflected. I know plenty of anabaptists who really love this Barack Obama guy.

  10. TimN Says:

    I like Obama. I don’t think he’s a savior, but he seems like a president who might be swayed by a movement of people working for change. I also think his background as a community organizer is a welcome departure from the military background of so many of our presidents. Unfortunately, it also means that Obama seems to be increasingly pushing the nationalist/militarist imagery to pre-empt an attack on his. Check out the eagle mascot that’s been subliminally showing up as a hidden background on the Obama site:

    and this lovely looking mascot on his “Fight the smears” site (echoed even more ferociously in the site header):


    So I agree completely that it’s important not to make an idol of him or see him as an idol. I heard tonight on NPR an interview with a guy who said he saw the woman next to him faint when Obama came down from the stage at an event. What if all this energy and focus were put into organizing for change in our neighborhoods?

    My wife really likes this quote from Obama:

    “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington … I’m asking you to believe in yours.”

    I have no idea whether Obama really believes this or not, but if anything good comes out of his presidency it’s probably going to be because a grass roots movement for change pushed him to do it, not because of his personal ability or vision. He’s a politician, so by definition issues are a means to power rather then the other way around.

  11. somasoul Says:

    I keep hearing “change” associated with this campaign. What is this “change” specifically?

  12. TimN Says:

    Just in case your question isn’t simply rhetorical, here’s a link to his blueprint for change.

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