February 25, 2008

Now Louis Farrakhan Gets Messiah Fever

The messianic rhetoric surrounding Barack Obama's presidential run just got a little stranger, although in one sense somewhat fitting. Speaking at the Nation of Islam's annual Saviour's Day event, Louis Farrakhan claimed that Obama could be the only person who could "lift America from its fall," and compared him to NoI founder Fard Mohammed (via Memeorandum):

In his first major public address since a cancer crisis, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said Sunday that presidential candidate Barack Obama is the "hope of the entire world" that the U.S. will change for the better.

The 74-year-old Farrakhan, addressing an estimated crowd of 20,000 people at the annual Saviours' Day celebration, never outrightly endorsed Obama but spent most of the nearly two-hour speech praising the Illinois senator.

"This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better," he said. "This young man is capturing audiences of black and brown and red and yellow. If you look at Barack Obama's audiences and look at the effect of his words, those people are being transformed."

Farrakhan compared Obama to the religion's founder, Fard Muhammad, who also had a white mother and black father.

"A black man with a white mother became a savior to us," he told the crowd of mostly followers. "A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall."

As far as is known, Obama didn't seek this quasi-endorsement, and he would be wise to avoid it. Farrakhan has been associated with anti-Semitism and violence, from neither of which he has repented. The speech from Farrakhan will probably give a boost to the nutty Obama-is-a-Muslim rumors that Rick Moran destroys at length in his post yesterday, but that's not where the problem lies with this speech.

Farrakhan's address exemplifies the irrational exuberance, to use Alan Greenspan's words, surrounding the Obama campaign. It doesn't come from the candidate's own rhetoric, but from his high-profile supporters, including his wife on one occasion. Obama's election can save America from itself; it can heal broken souls; it can do everything except show a track record of the candidate doing any of this at any level of government. We hear almost nothing of substantive policy on the stump from Obama or any of his surrogates, but plenty of themes of the dire straits in which we find ourselves and the call to faith that Obama can lead us from them.

That's not a political campaign; it's a secular revival. Regardless of how one feels about Obama -- and I think he's a good man with a very thin resume -- the kind of rhetoric surrounding his run feels dangerous. Voters have been asked to take a lot almost literally on faith, and the hyperbole has continued to increase as he sweeps to victory in state after state. It has gotten less rational, not more, in that period.

What happens when this bubble bursts? After all, it only really began getting strange in late November and early December. After he wins the nomination? After the convention? At some point, he will get challenged on policy like never before. Hillary Clinton couldn't do it, because there is almost no daylight between their policy beliefs after she decided she needed to run more to the Left in the primaries, which is why she's tried to run on experience. If Obama gets past her to the nomination, he'll come up against John McCain, who will force Obama to stop talking thematically and debate over the costs of those themes and what it will mean to people.

He'd still do better than Hillary in that situation, but the Messiah fever will likely come to an end. And what can Obama offer without it?

UPDATE: Jeralyn at TalkLeft notes that the Obama campaign isn't exactly doing high-fives over the endorsement, and gives a couple of reasons why.

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