Paul Krugman: Thank Goodness Democrats Don’t Create Cults of Personality Around Undeserving Politicians

Obama Cult Haraz N. Ghanbari - AP
Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

Paul Krugman’s latest column at the NY Times uses the 10th anniversary of hurricane Katrina as a pretext to attack the Republican presidential field. Midway through his shallow, lazy partisan screed Krugman uncorks the laugh-out-loud line of the day:

“I know, now I’m supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren’t any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing,” Krugman writes.

When you think politician and “cult of personality” in the same sentence, what comes to mind? Is it something like this?


Do you remember the 2008 convention speech? Obama delivered it in front of 80,000 fans on what Reuters called “an elaborate columned stage resembling a miniature Greek temple.”


What about the series of beatification photos taken by the media dozens of times since 2008?


People waited so long to see Obama in person that they routinely fainted when he finally got on stage. The level of adulation was so great that his 2008 rival, John McCain, put out a commercial mocking him as “The One” and poking fun at some of his quasi-religious pronouncements, i.e. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

There were songs before the election in which celebrities joined together to chant his slogans and his name. After the election videos turned up of children singing creepy, cult-like songs about the President who, truth be told, had done nothing remotely worthy of such adoration in his career.

Krugman must have realized how silly his pronouncement about Democrats not creating cults of personality around politicians would sound in light of all this evidence, so he adds one word which is meant to act as an escape clause. He writes, “cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing.” Krugman then adds, “True, some liberals were starry-eyed about Mr. Obama way back when, but the glitter faded fast, and what was left was a competent leader with some big achievements under his belt – most notably, an unprecedented drop in the number of Americans without health insurance.”

This is a dodge and not a very smart one. Whether a politician is deserving or not is something on which people can disagree. The fact that hyper-partisan Paul Krugman considers all Republicans undeserving and Obama deserving is about as surprising as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Even the achievement Krugman points to, Obamacare, remains a contentious topic on which Americans are about evenly divided.

The real nature of a cult of personality is that it doesn’t look at things like accomplishments. It’s about a persona — an individual who becomes a locus of aspirations. Krugman’s whole suggestion that some cults of personality are justified is at odds with how a cult of personality actually works. They defy justification because they aren’t based on such things in the first place. You’d think a professional political writer would know this.

But it’s not even necessary to argue the point, because even if a cult of personality could be justified, Krugman is cheating the timeline. In 2008 Obama had been a Senator for four years. In that time he had accomplished nothing of real significance. Whatever achievements Krugman points to after his election can’t retroactively justify the wave of unearned political hysteria that preceded it. The fainting, chanting, halos and very personal adulation came first. The disappointing reality came after. The fact that Krugman is eager to tap dance around this tells us more about his own political blind spot than it does about his opponents.


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