Q: In the Weekly Standard, University of Virginia professor James. W. Ceaser argues that President Obama’s approval ratings are suffering, in part, because Obama has been cast as a secular savior by people who are trying to “replace God with the Religion of Humanity.” Ceaser writes: “Being the leader of humanity is incompatible with being the president of the United States. No man can serve two masters.”
Do we expect our presidents to be spiritual leaders as well as political leaders? Can they be? Should they be?
I would like to point out that the arch-conservative Weely Standard is as fair-minded and enlightening a source on the Obama administration as Joseph Stalin would have been on the future of American democracy under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. James W. Ceaser, a visiting professor at that great impartial scholarly body, the Hoover Institution, is no more qualified to analyze Obama–or, for that matter, the “religion of humanity”–than I am to explain string theory. If he were, he would know that there are a great many religious believers who consider God and the religion of humanity as one. And there are a great many atheists who, while we don’t believe in God or in humanity as a religion, do believe in the possibility of human progress. But I can assure you that none of us–because we haven’t been sipping elixir at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party–has ever confused Barack Obama with any sort of messiah.
“Being the leader of humanity is incompatible with being the president of the United States,” Ceaser writes. “No man can serve two masters.” What do I think of this argument? Calling such an ad hominen statement an “argument” is investing right-wing assumptions and platitudes with a dignity they do not deserve.
Of course no president can be the leader of “humanity,” given that many of the human beings dispersed throughout our planet have shown a decided unwillingness to embrace even those principles agreed upon (and the number seems to be diminishing) by American citizens. I would hope that the President of the United States can be a spokesman for the best principles that humanity has struggled toward throughout centuries of cruelty and misplaced faith that there is some deity to rescue us from our own follies. I don’t think that a president is serving two masters by declaring that torture is incompatible with American ideals or that it is a really, really good idea for all of the sick to have access to health care.
President Obama’s approval ratings are down for three basic reasons. First, so many Americans are out of work that even people who still have jobs are worried to death that they might lose theirs. Second, the right-wing attack machine–so beautifully embodied and elevated by the intellectual bloviation of publications like the Weekly Standard–has managed to make people with nanosecond attention spans forget that the heartless, greed-based poliicies of the far right got us into this complicated mess in the first place. And, last but not least, an impatient, non-reading public makes poor political decisions because it literally can’t remember what happened more than a few days ago.
None of this really has anything to do with religion, although contemptuous attacks on secularism are part of the standard right-wing arsenal. No one with a functioning mind ever believed that Obama was a secular or any other kind of messiah. Let us see whether he will become a more effective president as well as a leader of rational–and I emphasize the adjective “rational”–humanity.