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Obama-mania and cult of self-esteem


By ABRAHAM KATSMAN
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1204473064711&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
Posted Mar 3, 2008

The phenomenon of Senator Barack Obama's campaign is astounding. He has packaged policies largely indistinguishable from those of John Edwards or Hillary Clinton in airy platitudes about "change" and "hope," and suddenly he's a rock star - complete with swooning and fainting fans at his huge campaign rallies. He can do no wrong, applauded wildly for everything from interrupting his speeches to give out water bottles to fans overcome by his presence to-no joke-blowing his nose onstage.

His spokesmen on national TV are flummoxed when asked to identify a single accomplishment in Obama's political career, yet it doesn't make the slightest dent in his support. Conventional wisdom says this adulation and intensity level cannot last. But conventional wisdom may be missing something fundamental.

His evident charisma aside, a clue to the source of Obama-mania may be found in the demographics of his support: he is far and away the favorite of younger voters and college students, routinely winning over 75% of the votes of Democrats under 30. Obama has tapped into is the first generation educated in schools focused on "self-esteem." Now, the products of self-esteem education have come of political age in substantial numbers, perhaps with profound implications for this and future elections.

For the past two decades, America's educational establishment has stressed the inculcation of self-esteem as the supreme educational goal. Self-respect - the product of struggle and achievement - is out; self-esteem - the entitlement to feel great self-worth regardless of actual accomplishment - is in.

Strict correction of misspelling or of wrong answers to math problems is discouraged. Competition is a big no-no: many youth sports leagues forbid keeping score, lest any child's self-esteem suffer from the indignity of losing. Posting honor rolls is discouraged, as it might injure the self-esteem of those who did not make the grade.

Grade inflation is rampant in schools: according to one recent study, about half of today's college freshman had an "A" average in high school compared to under 20% in the late 1960s, even though SAT scores have tanked over the same period. The focus on self-esteem has, in a sense, been a huge success.

For example, American students have very high scores when asked to assess how good they are at math. Unfortunately, they have low/mediocre scores in actual math performance, routinely being outscored by students in most other developed countries.

Inevitably, however, such over-indulgence of students leads to increased narcissism, self-absorption, and sense of entitlement. Those with self-esteem disproportionate to their achievement tend to be less willing to take responsibility for their own failures, shortcomings, or bad behavior.

Coddled children raised to believe that any dream is not only attainable, but an entitlement granted regardless of actual effort and accomplishment are increasingly growing into depressed and stressed young adults as they rudely discover that the post-school world is not so cooperative and doesn't really care about their dreams or their feelings. In the real world, they keep score.

But not in Obama-world. That is a world of Hope; of Action; of Change You Can Believe In; of Yes We Can; of Coming Together; of Moving Forward Into the Future, and of other banalities that can mean absolutely anything to anyone. "I am asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations." It's all about us and our good feelings of youth and unity. Nothing so difficult as spelling out tough policy choices or arguing about a particular program's merits or ramifications is involved.

Why, that might instigate analysis, or arguments about right or wrong answers, which would divide us; that would interfere with our focus on how good we feel about ourselves and the restoration of the soft, fuzzy future which once belonged to us. "I intend to lead the party of tomorrow, not the party of yesterday." Unification for "change," "hope," and "the future" is perfect for Obama's young, esteem-fueled supporters: just as their academic self-esteem was divorced from actual achievement, and their competitive self-esteem was insulated from scorekeeping, Obama-supplied political self-esteem is disconnected from any actual opinions, policies or analyses.

Notably, Obama's rhetorical flourishes never involve policy choices or the big, bad, complex world outside the campaign rally. "In the face of change lies hope, and in the face of hope lies change." Brilliant! Dreams are restored! We're all 14 again! Just close our eyes and hope a perfect future into existence. Problems with the genocidal Iranian neighborhood bully? Simple, we'll use our seventh-grade conflict resolution methods on Ahmedinijad. Those pesky student loans and subprime mortgages we took out? No worries, Obama will make someone else pay for them. Israeli-Arab conflicts and daily missile barrages on civilian populations? No problem, everyone just come together -Obama's very presence will melt hardened hearts and pacify Hamas and Hizbullah. There. Problems solved. No need to think about all that anymore.

Now, let's focus again on us, brimming anew with all the virtue and youthful innocence and self-love in which we were immersed in our school years, as newly bestowed by Obama's incantations. "We are the ones we've been waiting for!" What about actually defining a political course to follow, or weighing the specific national security implications of competing approaches to the Middle East and Islamic terror? How irrelevant to our feelings. How yesterday. How... Republican. We'd much rather just "believe in ourselves to do the things we believe we can do!" We are the future. We can do anything. This feels great. Self-esteem rocks.

One gets the distinct impression that these Obama supporters really couldn't care less what policies he advocates. How many of them can explain how his prescription for Iraq differs from Hillary Clinton's? Or how his fiscal policy differs from John McCain's? Would it matter to these supporters if each of those policies were the opposite? Would they even notice?

Which brings us to the question of sustainability - will the movement last? It certainly could. By bolstering voters' sense of self-satisfaction, Obama has unleashed a wave of heady feelings of unity, purpose, and enthusiasm - but all for the man who makes them feel this way, not for any particular policies. No one, after all, is fainting at the thought of Obama's position on health insurance. Thus, nothing any opponent can say or do will likely get between Obama and his worshipers to undermine those feelings. And if that's not enough to carry him to the White House this year, keep in mind 2012, when America's self-esteem obsessed schools will have churned out four more graduating classes of swooning Obama voters.

Abe Katsman, an attorney, has worked on several political campaigns, including Mayor Rudy Giuliani's first successful run for mayor and President Bush's 2004 re-election. He will be assuming a major role in Republicans Abroad Israel.
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