Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Obama, Shaman

The candidate’s post-masculine charisma tempts America in the age of Oprah.

[...] Obama, in gaming this culture, has figured out a new way to bottle old wine. He knows that experience has taught Americans to suspect the masculine healer-redeemer who bears collectivist gifts; no one wants to revive the caudillos of the thirties. Studiously avoiding the tough-hombre style of earlier charismatic figures, he phrases his vision in the tranquilizing accents of Oprah-land. His charisma is grounded in empathy rather than authority, confessional candor rather than muscular strength, metrosexual mildness rather than masculine testosterone. His power of sympathetic insight is said to be uncanny: “Everybody who’s dealt with him,” columnist David Brooks says, “has a story about a time when they felt Obama profoundly listened to them and understood them.” His two books are written in the empathetic-confessional mode that his most prominent benefactress, Oprah, favors; he is her political healer in roughly the same way that Dr. Phil was once her pop-psychology one. The collectivist dream, Obama instinctively understands, is less scary, more sympathetic, when served up by mama (or by mama in drag).

With the triumph of Obama’s post-masculine charisma, the patriarchal collectivism of the New Deal has finally given way to a new vision of liberal community, the empathetic mommy-state that Balzac prophesied in La Comédie humaine. The leader of the future, Balzac foresaw, would be a man who, like his diabolically charismatic Jacques Collin, possesses a capacity for maternal love. When his protégé Lucien dies, Collin exclaims: “This blow has been more than death to me, but you can’t understand what I’m saying. . . . If you’re fathers, you’re only that and no more. . . . I’m a mother, too!” Collin ends his career as a functionary of the state—and a policeman. The Grand Inquisitor of the future, Balzac intimates, will undertake his inquisitions in the name of matriarchal pity.


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