Obama’s people are clever, but not good, which is a common combination at dot com companies that go under when the trend passes them by. The Obama trend has long since gone and no one is all that excited about another four years. Like Steve Jobs debuting one more feature, the campaign has doled out gay marriage and the DREAM Act to gets its base excited about another four years. But it still isn’t excited. These are features that it expected years ago and it’s not in the mood to work itself up into a frenzy over finally getting them.
This is the part where the marketing consultants spend six months on a study and inform the company that their brand is done and has to either be retired or salvaged through a high-profile campaign that will reinvent it as cutting edge. But when your brand is a man, how do you reinvent him? And when your brand is “Transformative Politics” and even your staunchest supporters don’t feel like anything has been transformed, how do you move the product?
Cults shift the burden of failure from the guru and the program to the participants. It isn’t the man or the idea that failed, but the people.
There are the outside enemies who make enlightenment impossible. “How very much I’ve tried my best to give you a good life. But in spite of all of my trying a handful of our people, with their lies, have made our lives impossible,” Jim Jones said at Jonestown. That is the epilogue of the Obama campaign. The one being scripted for him by the media.
Like Jim Jones, Obama has done his best to give us a good life, but the Republicans, FOX News, the Supreme Court, the Koch Brothers and powerful interests have sabotaged his efforts with their lies. And yet in the end it’s not the enemies who bear the final burden, but the people who weren’t good enough.
Cults demand more and more from their followers to impose upon them an unreasonable and unshakeable burden of guilt. The cult appeals to those who want to make more of their lives, and it destroys their will by making them feel like failures. The Obama campaign’s endless demands of its followers have that tenor as well. Behind all the flowery words, the burden of responsibility is being shifted from his people to his supporters.
The cult frames everything in terms of commitment. What begins as a commitment to personal and global transformation becomes a commitment to the demands of the cult. The commitment is meant to be mutual, and it is occasionally even framed in terms of a marriage.
“In all our years of marriage, he’s always looked out for me. Now, I see that same commitment every day to you and to this country,” Michelle Obama’s campaign mailing says. “The only way we’ll win this election is if we can rely on one another like that.”
The commitments, of course, aren’t mutual. They can’t be. The disparity in power is too great. The cult exists for the sake of the leader, but the leader does not exist for the sake of the cult. Once the followers realize this, the illusion of mutual commitment breaks down. And to keep them from realizing it, the cult strives to make them feel that they have not lived up to their commitment.
The cult intrudes into personal and marital relationships because it cannot allow any commitment to dwarf the greater commitment. That is why cults will arrange marriages and control whom members may marry. It may command divorces or just solicit donations to its cause at a wedding. It acts as if it knows no boundaries, but, in truth, it is setting its own boundaries. It is claiming the intimate territory of personal relationships as its own.
And yet all this only works for as long as the transformative illusion endures. When the sense that the commitment to the cult is not transformative, that the principles of its program cannot make a better world, then its power fades away and dies. The cult may amp up its marketing, but the only product that it ever truly had was intangible.