Balkinization  

Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama as Andrew Jackson

Mark Graber

Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829 turned into a drunken revelry. 20,000 admirers stormed the White House, destroying furniture and carpets in a desperate effort to greet the new President. Order was restored only when an intrepid member of Jackson’s coterie arranged for free whisky on the White House lawn. Traditional Washingtonians were horrified by what they saw. Margaret Bayard Smith, a prominent Washington socialite, complained that "the Majesty of the People had disappeared," replaced by "a rabble, a mob, of boys, negros, women, children, scrambling, fighting, romping." Looking at the debris and carnage, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story and Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts concluded that the old order was dead. "The reign of King Mob," Story wrote, "seemed triumphant." Webster correctly observed at Jackson’s inaugural that the President’s supporters thought "that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger."

The Whig in me has similar fears about the Obama inauguration. On the one hand, I suspect we are unlikely to witness drunken revelers ruining the White House, although the clean-up is likely to be expensive. Moreover, Obama is many ways is about as much of a Whig as one can hope for in turn of the twenty-first century politics. On the other hand, the inauguration has been more about celebrity than statesmanship. Pictures of Obama that I saw yesterday cycling through Georgetown seemed more appropriate for Mao’s China than a constitutional democracy. Increasingly, a cult of personality, Obama as Abraham Lincoln, seems triumphant. Perhaps a day of populist revelry is the price progressives must pay for living in a constitutional democracy, but the signs are worrisome. The Republicans for the last forty years have proven more adept at providing people with symbols than effective policy. We should remember tomorrow that words, even when delivered by photogenic hunks neither feed the hungry nor bring peace to the Middle East. The danger we need rescuing from is not simply the politics of George Bush, but a media fostered politics of celebrity. This calls for a political culture that cares less about the pageantry of politics than the substance. This week is not a good start to that project.


Comments:

What a load of baloney, and Mao's China my ass -- you're just crying over the spilt milke and smoking ruins of Bush and Cheney's degenerate little Fourth Reich, may you Republicans gag on your own malicious bile for many years to come.

Just be glad we aren't rounding you all up and sending you off to re-education camps.
 

Yes, damn free HBO coverage! What does Marisa Tomei and Bruce have to do with hunger in Africa!

I want it like back in the days of Washington, when celebrity didn't matter, and when they gave free liquor out at elections. I didn't even get a cup of coffee!

MG dreamed in his book of the Constitutional Union party winning in 1860, so it is not surprising he is wary of an admirer of Abe Lincoln. Lincoln was an old-Whig, but not enough of one!

Seriously. This is silly.
 

Yeah, slave owner and Indian killer Jackson is EXACTLY like Obama. Good idea.

http://www.ihatewhatyoujustsaid.com
 

I don't think anyone would defend a cult of personality, but that doesn't mean we should ignore political symbolism. Surely the very best politicians can use that symbolism to accomplish worthy goals.
 

let the people have their day...

we've waited a long time for this chapter to end.
 

The difference between the current GOP and Dems can be pretty neatly summed up by what they chant at political campaign speeches.

GOP voters generally chant "USA!, "USA!, "USA!" as if they were at the Olympics cheering on their country's team. See the Palin speech here in Colorado Springs starting at about the 9:35 minute mark.

Dem voters worshipfully chant Obama's name or one of his catch phrases like "Yes we can!" This is classic cult of personality stuff from focusing on the man or the movement.

Unsurprisingly, wags have joined video from Obama rallies pretty seamlessly with Living Colour's classic rock anthem "Cult of Personality."
 

GOP voters generally chant "USA!, "USA!, "USA!" as if they were at the Olympics cheering on their country's team. See the Palin speech here in Colorado Springs starting at about the 9:35 minute mark.

Yes, there is no doubt that Rethuglicans think that mindlessly chanting USA somehow makes them more patriotic.
 

you lost me on this one, mark.

yes, i get your point that deeds mean more than words, but once in a while, we have to concede the point that words can inspire deeds. the people wish to celebrate two points -- first, the end of the bush presidency, and secondly, the beginning of the obama administration. there is no indication from anything i have seen in the news, either on television, the papers or online, that there is going to be a storming of the white house that will be defused by free whiskey or its figurative equivalent. i don't see the point in weeping over the possibility of the populace celebrating the possibilities of the new administration. if obama goofs up, perhaps then we can criticize. how about giving him the chance to do so before wringing our hands?
 

Wikipedia's feature on the Whig Party (United States) includes the followsing:

"The Whig Party was a political party of the United States during the era of Jacksonian democracy. Considered integral to the Second Party System and operating from 1833 to 1856,[1] the party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party. In particular, the Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over the executive branch and favored a program of modernization and economic protectionism."

Is this reflective of "the Whig in me" referred to by Mark Graber? Is he opposed to the policies of Pres. Elect Obama? Or does he enjoy raining on parades he may not be invited to? And was the Whig in Graber after Bush v. Gore?
 

Odd how selective memory kicks in for some people. I recall those chants of "Sa-rah!" as if it were just last fall. Oh, wait, it was.

Which is more indicative of a cult of personality, you decide.
 

I recall those chants of "Sa-rah!" as if it were just last fall. Oh, wait, it was.

# posted by C2H50H : 2:21 PM


Are you sure that wasn't Dems?

Palin/Joe the Plumber 2012
 

On the other hand, the inauguration has been more about celebrity than statesmanship.

It takes a Scrooge-like mentality to begrudge the celebration of a desperately needed/desired changing of the guard.
 

Oooh, such vitriol. This change is just business as usual for the United States. It always amazes me that the losers in the contest always think that their view has always be predominant.

Andrew Jackson's presidency marked a significant change in the direction of this country, let's hope that the Obama presidency does the same thing, although not in the same way.

The political dialogue was changing well before Jackson was elected and the old guard did manage to keep him out for a term, but the Jacksonian style of politics eventually prevailed. Since then the story has been one of change. The executive stays one way for an inderminate amount of time and then the country changes with new leaders. Jackson's election was just a lot more obvious.

In modern times, Ronald Reagan, JFK, and both Roosevelts had the same effect as Jackson on the country by roiling the mixture and seeing what came out. The results were always mixed, but the country seems to be better for the automatic change of leadership that accompanies our political system.

The celebrations only reflect the cultures of the celebrators. We are back to the Democrats who tend to party more hardily and are less common on the scene historically. I don't think that the country is going down the tubes, to the contrary, it is trying out new ideas and new methods.

And that is the American way.
 

You can actually count me with Prof. Graber on this one. Given the hard times we are facing, I wish Obama had gone for austere. I do also find it a bit disturbing to see a President treated like some kind of rock star. (I also find it disturbing to see a rock star treated like some kind of rock star).

Still, if Obama does well, his popularity will be well-earned. If he fails, his cult should fade pretty soon. Long live the king, so long as he delivers.
 

Whoa. A few brief thoughts. First, for those who do not know, my politics tends to be liberal Democratic, so I had no difficulty figuring out who to vote for in this election. Second, as a number of scholars have noted, there was also a cultural divide between Whigs and Democrats, somewhat similar to the cultural divide between populists and progressives. I'm a progressive elitist, which makes my temperament more Whiggish than Jacksonian. People have the right to celebrate and the party pooper in me (just ask phg) will never like popular celebrations. Still, the post I wrote in about 10 minutes aks people to consider whether out politics is become too much a politics of celebrity (Sarah Palin being the best example) and whether a wiser long run Obama strategy might be to, at the margins, minimize some of these disturbing (from my perspective) forms of American politics
 

Reduced to its essence, this is what Mr. Graber is actually saying:

Yes, sir, all dem darkies goin' be runnin' around the White House, destroying the place.

This is without doubt the most racist piece I have seen posted by one of the contributors (as opposed to comments). If Obama was white, I seriously doubt that Mr. Graber would have made any such comments.

As Keith Olberman said once about Rush Limbaugh, "go ahead, Rush, put on the hood, you know you're just dying to" (the KKK hood, of course)

I realize Prof. Balkin is trying to have a wide-ranging discussion here. But there is already a site for wingnut buffoonery by a law professor -- instapundit.

With Graber and Stras, this site is well on its way to being instapundit-lite. These two men do not appear to make intellectual integrity a serious part of their commentary.

Ross Taylor
 

Reduced to its essence, this is what Mr. Graber is actually saying:

Yes, sir, all dem darkies goin' be runnin' around the White House, destroying the place.

This is without doubt the most racist piece I have seen posted by one of the contributors (as opposed to comments). If Obama was white, I seriously doubt that Mr. Graber would have made any such comments.

As Keith Olberman said once about Rush Limbaugh, "go ahead, Rush, put on the hood, you know you're just dying to" (the KKK hood, of course)

I realize Prof. Balkin is trying to have a wide-ranging discussion here. But there is already a site for wingnut buffoonery by a law professor -- instapundit.

With Graber and Stras, this site is well on its way to being instapundit-lite. These two men do not appear to make intellectual integrity a serious part of their commentary.

Ross Taylor
 

Pardon my knee-jerk assumption. :)

But gee, didn't the horses leave that barn awhile ago?

Or do you suppose George Bush got to be president because he was so talented and accomplished?

Personally, I think you should rejoice -- we're about to have a president who is:

1) More intelligent than a coin-toss.

2) NOT a criminal.
 

a wiser long run Obama strategy might be to, at the margins, minimize some of these disturbing (from my perspective) forms of American politics

# posted by Mark Graber : 3:39 PM


If that is what you meant, that is what you should have said.
 

I find this defensive reaction to any criticism of Obama quite disturbing and not a very good omen.
 

I guess I buy the spirit of this post, but I'm not sure how a personality cult is necessarily a bad thing, so long as the personality at the center of the cult doesn't take too much advantage of his followers' adulation. What kind of damage in concrete terms do you see this sort of thing causing? You say that a politics of celebrity won't bring peace to the Middle East, but the people drawing the pictures of Obama you see around Georgetown aren't the ones running Middle East policy; Hillary and Dennis Ross are, and they don't subscribe to any personality cult. I just think this sort of thing is an inescapable feature of democracy. In America it's as old as Washington. In other news, Politico says Lederman's taken a job with the Obama administration.
 

EL:

Haven't you learned that it is heresy to challenge The One.

Cults of personality are not based upon actual success or failure, but upon celebrity.

The followers of the personality live vicariously through him. An attack on him is an attack on them.

I sure hope Obama can separate real life from his cult of personality.
 

Gee, Mark, you don't look Whiggish. I can understand tongue in cheek but your tongue in whose cheek, or vice versa? I guess "Happy Days Are Here Again" is not a favorite song of yours. Do you prefer "Brother Can You Spare a Dime"? Or is the assocation of Obama with Lincoln bothersome?
 

One further comment:

So Graber says he is a liberal; then why this utter nonsense, that sounds exactly like something that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Bill O'Reilly. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if one or more of them picks Graber's comment to read on the air.

And the claim of being a liberal is rather strange -- the only people I have ever seen comparing any dempocrats to communists are the far right.

And further, though he implies he voted for Obama, he does not come out and actually say it -- and given the rest of his remarks, that absence seems glaring.

Finally, Mr. Graber, it may not have occurred to you that maybe people are just exultant that the 8 year reign of terror in this country may be starting to come to an end; that people are rejoicing that we are starting to get our country back from the illegal junta that has been wrecking the nation for the last eight years.

And from now on, if you are truly a political liberal -- as opposed to "classic liberal economics,": leave the ludicrous comparisons to the demagogues of the world.
 

Enlightened,

If you've missed all the other omens over the last forty years that portend the decline of this republic, only to be shocked at what we might term the "apotheosis of Obama", then I would suggest you haven't been paying attention.

George Bush tried actively to cultivate a personality cult, with his flight suit, ground zero appearance, pretense of decisiveness, etc, but, in a surprise, it turns out that one needs a personality to have a personality cult catch on.

Professor Graber, If it is desired to nip an Obama personality cult before its full flowering (assuming it's not too late) I would suggest that the news media is where to apply the pressure. Their coverage of the inauguration has been simply retch-inducing.

While trying to get the news media to stop their over-the-top treatment of the inaugural, don't forget to try and correct some of their other failures. I'll hold your coat and hat.
 

Cults of personality are not based upon actual success or failure, but upon celebrity.

The followers of the personality live vicariously through him. An attack on him is an attack on them.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 4:17 PM


Coming from a Palin supporter, this is pretty funny.
 

It is disappointing, though, that all Graber has to do to get viciously attacked is to point out that there's a little bit of a troubling personality cult around Obama these days. But again, I'd need more clarification as to what concrete harm that cult does.
 

I suspect the criticisms of Prof. Graber by uptight liberals do not bother him nearly so much as the troubling nods of agreement from Mr. DePalma.
 

The danger we need rescuing from is not simply the politics of George Bush, but a media fostered politics of celebrity.

If you had focused your remarks more tightly on the media per se then I don't think you would have annoyed so many people. Certainly not me. The corporate, profit-driven media is a major malignancy in this country, IMO. We need a better-funded public media to provide a counterweight.
 

President Obama, celebrity statesman, will be inaugurated tomorrow after a helluva party, including as you say "boys, negros, women, and children". I fear alcohol and even illicit drugs will be consumed, though it is probably too cold for extensive fornication. Then Washington can settle down to Serious Business, fueled by the money of corporate America.

But corporate America is broke and desperate for leadership. And Barack Obama, Chicago pol, has decided to keep his populist grassroots campaign in being as a movement party that is loyal to him alone. Yup, change is coming.
 

Mark,

Was there a cult of personality around George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? Or maybe Teddy Roosevelt? Franklin Roosevelt?

What you are complaining about is as old as the hills. I think you have to go to Norway or Sweden to find a more impersonal politics.

Gerard
 

While I don't particularly share the concern expressed in the post, I have to say that Ross Taylor's reaction is pretty disturbing. I can see that response to Rush Limbaugh or some RNC Chairman candidates or some blog trolls, but, really, nuclear retaliation seems a bit overblown here.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

I for one will be mighty pleased to land at Washington Obama National Airport, watch functionaries in the Obama Executive Office Building, and drive the Obama Interstate Highway System. An Obama Supreme Court Building wouldn't be a bad idea, it would be better than the Edwin Meese-Ted Olson one we've got now, not to mention tearing down the Bush Border Fence along with the Cheney Guantanamo Torture Chamber.

This is a very young electorate that Obama represents, they don't know as yet the president isn't the be-all and end-all, that not just Barack Obama but also Mitch McConnell was elected. When the Supreme Court throws out the Voting Rights Act, they'll begin to get the idea.
 

As some others note, there might be something there to be worried about, but this post expressed it in an over the top fashion.

The ridicule is therefore not because of criticism, but its nature; thus something "a little bit" troubling shouldn't bring up cites of drunken revelry, "king mob" and Mao.

Likewise, not only are weekend celebrations not exactly a good judge, but there is significant evidence Obama supporters look beyond the celebrity to the ideals and policies he and his team need to help carry out.
 

Hey, Bartbuster -- do you think that Obama is a "natural born" citizen -- if he isn't, do you think he should still be sworn in tomorrow?
 

Still, the post I wrote in about 10 minutes aks people to consider whether out politics is become too much a politics of celebrity (Sarah Palin being the best example) and whether a wiser long run Obama strategy might be to, at the margins, minimize some of these disturbing (from my perspective) forms of American politics

You use the word "become" to imply that some line has been crossed, that now, now that Obama is President it is incumbent upon each of us, even moreso his active supporters over the years, temper their enthusiasm. A classic call for "manners" (imbibic, economic, or otherwise) is always an attempt to establish a class distinction.

"Grow up, people. We have a crisis at hand!"

However, there is no line, which is why MG does not spend much time on this concept: it's imaginary. History tells us that personality politics has been steadily growing year after year, and the smart money is in accounting for it in your voting decisions. It's not everything and it isn't nothing, but there's no change here with regard to past Presidents and/or their inaugurations. This is particularly true if you notice that Bush's 2005 inauguration cost just about the same as is estimated for Obamas. It is the height of ignorance to suggest that personality politics is carrying more weight with Obama than it did with W or Clinton. Just ask Tom "Suck On This" Friedman or any number of TV news readers."

But I suppose this is all putting too fine a point on it. After all, you only took 10 minutes to write it. It's always good to post a disclaimer when called on a fault, it's good practice for tort defense.
 

Back on topic, however, I don't see Obama as slaveowner Jackson either.
 

Hey, Bartbuster -- do you think that Obama is a "natural born" citizen -- if he isn't, do you think he should still be sworn in tomorrow?

# posted by Charles : 7:35 PM


Hey, Charles -- go fuck yourself.
 

Wow. That's not the answer I was expecting at all. Have a nice day then.
 

Charles said...

Back on topic, however, I don't see Obama as slaveowner Jackson either.

Jackson was a tough thoroughgoing SOB who waged total war against Indians, prosecuted his own private conquest of Florida and crushed political opponents.

Obama is a celebrity who has yet to stand up to anyone on anything.

Jackson was a frontier president, Obama an urban president.

Jackson and Obama's constituencies are hardly the same. Jackson attracted the small city and rural vote that is now GOP, while Obama attracts primarily the urban and suburban vote.

I don't see the analogy.
 

If you've missed all the other omens over the last forty years that portend the decline of this republic, only to be shocked at what we might term the "apotheosis of Obama", then I would suggest you haven't been paying attention.

It is not the survival of the Republic I am worried about. It is whether our side is any more capable of critical thought, as opposed to blind leader worship, than the Bushies. IOW, what Mark Field said.

PS: I see Charles is back. How did we get rid of him last time? And can we please do it again?
 

I repeat:

REJOICE -- we're about to have a President who's more intelligent than a coin-toss.

And if that's "a cult of personality," let me repeat:

REJOICE.
 

Indeed, the rejoicing over the fascists losing power should not be mistaken for an Obama cult.
 

EL:

I simply left last time. I take it you think that you've "proven" Obama is a natural born citizen?
 

What in hell got into the shorts of Charles Gittings? Is it new - or just on the wrong blog [There's lots of "birther" blogs, CG- of varying intensity- menace & menace ... well, not such much on the last] Did he choose to put it in them, or is it congenital - & mainly: is it contagious? I'm getting beyond the age where I'm able to spare any more neuronal material for voyages on the Good Ship The Stupid It Burns.
 

What exactly are you confused about Keith?
 

When the Supreme Court throws out the Voting Rights Act, they'll begin to get the idea.

Believe me, that's not happening. If there's a challenge to some of the changes in the recent reauthorization, it may succeed, but they're not going to take the whole VRA out. No way Kennedy votes for that.
 

It will be fascinating to read the government brief defending the VRA on behalf of our first African American president elected in no small part because of an enormous turnout of African American voters across the country.
 

Keith, Charles and Charles Gittings are two separate posters.
 

Oh... never mind then.

* * *

My apologies to Charles Gittings.

Does that other Charles keep his head separate from the rest of him?
 

No. Do you?
 

Andrew Jackson is The Web’s Most Wanted Andrew!
(Check your score for your name too.)
More raw data is here.
Baby Names Alert.
 

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