Sunday, November 2, 2008

Obama's Crowds

I finally got around to reading a piece by Fouad Ajami that I'd saved a few days back, on the role of the crowd in politics in general, and the Obama campaign in particular. It's good stuff:
My boyhood, and the Arab political culture I have been chronicling for well over three decades, are anchored in the Arab world. And the tragedy of Arab political culture has been the unending expectation of the crowd -- the street, we call it -- in the redeemer who will put an end to the decline, who will restore faded splendor and greatness. When I came into my own, in the late 1950s and '60s, those hopes were invested in the Egyptian Gamal Abdul Nasser. He faltered, and broke the hearts of generations of Arabs. But the faith in the Awaited One lives on, and it would forever circle the Arab world looking for the next redeemer.

America is a different land, for me exceptional in all the ways that matter. In recent days, those vast Obama crowds, though, have recalled for me the politics of charisma that wrecked Arab and Muslim societies. A leader does not have to say much, or be much. The crowd is left to its most powerful possession -- its imagination.

On a totally unrelated note: 300th post!

1 comment:

Shane said...

Congrats on 300. I've been blogging for like 4 years and I have around the same amount. And that includes the ill-fated roommate blog.

I've been a skeptic when it comes to Obama's exceptionalism. But that also includes skepticism that Obama's followers are in any sense exceptional either. Political figures throughout history and across cultures have utilized the power of charisma to accrue power. In this country alone, in just my lifetime, Reagan and Clinton were really good at influencing public opinion.

This whole archetypical "One who will save us" thing is hardwired into our brains. It's the foundation of a bunch of religions and even quasi-religious philosophical schools. We'll always be susceptible to it, so we shouldn't be surprised when someone uses it to their advantage.