Obama Reinvents Sacred Themes for 2012
While his record as president makes it abundantly clear that he does not walk on water, the president is still appropriating to himself many of the religious code words and symbols that ensured his victory in 2008. Strangely enough, in many respects, the president is relying on the same themes that worked in 2008.
In his book, Branding Obamessiah, Mark Edward Taylor wrote about Obama's "Devotional Code" -- religious-sounding rhetorical themes that permeated Obama's communication during his campaign for the presidency. Taylor identified the "Sacred Six" characteristics -- a creation story, sacred words, sacred images, sacred ritual, true believers, and a messianic leader -- that created a public perception that Barack Obama embodied "hope and change" for the future, that created an image of him as "The One."
Knowing that he was an inexperienced candidate (arguably the most inexperienced ever), Mr. Obama's campaign staff in 2008 sought to downplay the importance of experience, even to make it appear undesirable. Thus was born the idea that Obama would be portrayed as a "change agent" bringing in fresh new ideas and pushing out the stale, outmoded ones. Taylor wrote, "Obama talked about 'Change' in a way that made both Clinton and McCain pay the price for their years of experience. Obama's ad copy 'Change' trumped the 'Experience' of his opponents and made them appear to be just a couple of recycled Washington insiders ... it turned Obama's major liability into an asset." Obama's advisers admitted to relying on the axiom, "Your strength is your weakness, and your weakness is your strength."
Mr. Obama's savvy strategists for 2008 figured ways to make the Ivy-League elitist into an "everyman." With inherently vague, evocative rhetoric, the presidential candidate allowed the voters to "fill in the blanks" while he promised everything in general, but nothing specific. It didn't suit their purposes to explain the kind of change that was coming; indeed, it would have spelled disaster to have elaborated on the "changes" that Mr. Obama envisioned. No one on Team Obama -- in particular those who really knew, like, for example, Valerie Jarrett -- wanted to address the specifics of the "fundamental transformation" Mr. Obama intended to make happen. It was enough to build up people's anticipation that their hopes -- no matter what those hopes were -- would finally be realized.
As Taylor said, "[t]rue believers read into the [campaign] language a meaning that suited them." Candidate Obama, the secular ideologue, used "Sacred Words" to shape himself into the image of an evangelical believer. The radical leftist Saul Alinsky acolyte told voters what they wanted to hear, convincing them that with Obama they could "make progress" (another generality that voters could shape into their own interpretation).
Then, as now, Mr. Obama's advisers knew that people act on emotion, not logic. Taylor's book declared that the Obama team excelled in patterning campaign rhetoric after Madison Avenue advertising. Taylor explained, "Advertising works on a ... primal level. It seeks to connect with deep feelings and raw emotion. Effective ads don't nurture subtle nuance. They don't cultivate calculated judgments. Nor do they insinuate understated distinctions. Ads that work go right for the gut." Note that such advertisements steer clear of realism and factual depictions. No wonder that even before Barack Obama won the election in 2008, the Association of National Advertisers gave the Obama team their "Masters of Marketing" award, noting that the campaign's design strategy was comparable in sophistication and excellence to the advertising giants like Nike and Target.
Team Obama's pièce de résistance was a campaign of soft sentimentality targeted at the hearts of single women -- a key demographic that strategists rightly deemed pivotal for an Obama victory. Taylor wrote, "The average thirty-something woman of today is three times as likely to be single as her counterpart in the 1970s." Knowing that the single woman demographic is more liberal in its politics and values, the Obama campaign created an Obama image that was "the ultimate political aphrodisiac for women voters." Obama campaign director David Axelrod and Team Obama, understanding the impact of the bleak "mancession" on single women, catered to the desire of single women to find "Mr. Right." They created a "metrosexual" Obama -- sensitive, charming, urbane, cultured, understanding, and cosmopolitan -- who would make a perfect "virtual partner." One enthusiastic Obama supporter, quoted in Taylor's book and obviously drinking the campaign Kool-Aid, exclaimed, "Barack is everything we've wanted in a president. And he's everything my ex-husband wasn't!"
In 2012, the appeal to women has taken a more hard-edged tone. Gone is the soft sentimentality; instead, we have accusations that the GOP has launched a "war on women" and "an attack on women's health." As in 2008, media elites are carrying the water for the campaign with editorials in the New York Times, opinion editorials by Maureen Dowd, and an unending procession of leftist personalities giving political commentary on CNN, on MSNBC, and in high-profile leftist blogs like Daily Kos and Politico.
The ultimate ploy of 2012, reinvented from 2008, though, is the overlay of evangelical appeal. To win now, as then, Mr. Obama has to speak the language of evangelicals. He has to be able to garner enough evangelical votes to swing the election his way. To that end, he employs evangelical rhetoric and imagery to an unprecedented degree ("Look at this beautiful day the Lord has made." or "I give all praise to God."). Biblical passages, phrases from hymns, and evangelical lingo are peppered throughout the president's speeches ("touching our souls" and "stepping out of the pew" -- all references that would be soundly denounced coming from a GOP candidate).
Since in 2012 Mr. Obama cannot run on his record, he is justifying his most controversial decisions and programs by invoking his faith and twisting biblical references toward his ends. Thus, ObamaCare, which was forced on the public against their will, is wrapped in Good Samaritan-type rhetoric -- the Bible commands us to take care for the poor and needy. Taxpayer funding for abortion is supposedly about taking care of women's health -- "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you." The president's support for same-sex "marriage" is based on the biblical commandment to "love" and the desire for "equality."
Mr. Obama is also, as Mark Taylor emphasized, excellent at sermonizing. As in 2008, albeit a lot less successfully in 2012, he seeks to rise above the fray, redefine problems, and offer his twisted faith-based solution. Taylor's words from his excellent analysis of the 2008 Obama campaign are just as applicable today as we get into the fray of 2012: the president has mastered "Obamessiah" rhetoric. "He has a gift. Some might say it is Teflon. But in Obamessiah's case, it [seems] more like the wings of a dove."
Obama's wings, however, are likely about as strong as those Daedalus fashioned for Icarus using wax. The Greek myth illustrates what lies ahead for one who does not comprehend truth and reality, but thinks artificial wings the same as real ones...and flies too high.