Obama: Demander in Chief?

I’ve borrowed that phrase from a Cato-at-Liberty post by Sallie James.  She quotes Michelle Obama:

Barack Obama … is going to demand that you shed your cynicism… That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

James comments:

The President of the United States is the employee of the American people. He is not there to make demands of people. If I want to sit on my couch for the rest of my life eating Doritos and watching trashy television — unengaged, uninformed and uninvolved — that’s my prerogative.

Indeed, Michelle Obama’s quote reminds me of Gene Healy’s new book, The Cult of the Presidency.   The blurb from Cato’s site says:

The Cult of the Presidency takes a step back from the ongoing red team/blue team combat and shows that, at bottom, conservatives and liberals agree on the boundless nature of presidential responsibility. For both camps, it is the president’s job to grow the economy, teach our children well, provide seamless protection from terrorist threats, and rescue Americans from spiritual malaise. Very few Americans seem to think it odd, says Healy, “when presidential candidates talk as if they’re running for a job that’s a combination of guardian angel, shaman, and supreme warlord of the earth.”

Yes, both parties.  We have reason to fear McCain, too.

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2 Comments

Filed under politics

2 responses to “Obama: Demander in Chief?

  1. nub

    This strikes me as a somewhat tortured reading of a fairly benign comment. First of all, the word “demand” is obviously used loosely in this context to mean “to ask of someone.” To read into it some kind of authoritarian subtext is both cynical and nitpicky.

    But more importantly, I think you and James misinterpret a fundamental element of Obama’s message. The kind of “change” that he is “demanding” is precisely NOT something to be effected through top-down authoritarianism, but rather through the kind of bottom-up, grassroots organization that values the individual as the primary locus of democracy. This is a standard part of his stump.

    That said, I do agree with your larger point about the president being an employee of the people and not a cult of personality, etc. There’s little doubt that individuals tend to project their personal views and desires onto their favored candidates, regardless of those candidates’ actual positions or their ability to shape them into policy. Obama is particularly susceptible to such projection just by virtue of being so young and charismatic. But there are worse attributes for a president to have than being overly inspiring and empathetic. Like, you know, actually being authoritarian.

    Nice blog you have here. 🙂

  2. nub

    This strikes me as a somewhat tortured reading of a fairly benign comment. First of all, the word “demand” is obviously used loosely in this context to mean “to ask of someone.” To read into it some kind of authoritarian subtext is both cynical and nitpicky.

    But more importantly, I think you and James misinterpret a fundamental element of Obama’s message. The kind of “change” that he is “demanding” is precisely NOT something to be effected through top-down authoritarianism, but rather through the kind of bottom-up, grassroots organization that values the individual as the primary locus of democracy. This is a standard part of his stump.

    That said, I do agree with your larger point about the president being an employee of the people and not a cult of personality, etc. There’s little doubt that individuals tend to project their personal views and desires onto their favored candidates, regardless of those candidates’ actual positions or their ability to shape them into policy. Obama is particularly susceptible to such projection just by virtue of being so young and charismatic. But there are worse attributes for a president to have than being overly inspiring and empathetic. Like, you know, actually being authoritarian.

    Nice blog you have here. 🙂

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