Back in the late '80's, Living Colour had a hit with their song, "Cult of Personality." The song included a litany
of figures who have enjoyed personality cult status: Mussolini, Kennedy, Stalin, Ghandi, God, and Lennon. If an artist were to cover that song today, that artist might want to include Bush in that list.
According to a posting by Garance Franke-Ruta at The American Prospect Online, no less an authority on conservative policy than Grover Norquist himself has (perhaps unintentionally) identified George Bush's blind followers to be a cult of personality. In response to a question about the likely reaction by the Republican base to a pullout of Iraq (especially if a pullout is eventually endorsed by some Republican Congressmen), Mr. Norquist said, "The base isn't interested in Iraq. The base is for Bush. If Bush said tomorrow, we're leaving in two months, there would be no revolt."
Wikipedia defines cult of personality as, "A cult of personality or personality cult arises when a country's leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestioning flattery and praise." It's the unquestioning flattery and praise that drives me nuts. For Bush's supporters, critical analysis of Bush's policies, such as they are, is virtually sinful. The vast right-wing echo chamber, driven by Fox News and a plethora of conservative media outlets, provides enough information/misinformation to completely drown out viewpoints that challenge the Bush Administration and it allows individuals to live in a virtual alternate universe where Bush is all-good and objective questioning of Bush policy is treason.
Bush's presidency has been in virtual full-immersion in his personality cult. He has always been surrounded by people who tell him how great he is. This is, no doubt, a major contributing factor to the Administration's many failures, from post-invasion planning for Iraq to the achingly slow response to Hurricane Katrina. It's hard for Bush to make necessary policy adjustments when everybody tells Bush that he's on the right track, if only by way of being Bush.
This Bush-worship has yielded a realignment of sorts in term of the popular ideas of what constitutes liberal and conservative. Consider the case of long-time conservative Andrew Sullivan, whose traditionally conservative views have remained relatively static, but since he has not hewn closely to Bush Administration policy, especially as Bush's Iraq adventure has become mired in legendary incompetence, Sullivan has lost the conservative clout that he once had with Bush supporters and has even been branded a liberal by some. Glenn Greenwald has some details here. In keeping with the cult of personality concept, Greenwald also noted that, "Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one's actual political views, but is a function purely of one's personal loyalty to George Bush."
Conservative commentator Joe Scarborough has had experiences similar to Sullivan's. "Being a faithful follower of Brother Bush has long been synonymous with loving Jesus, supporting the troops and taking a stand against sodomy," Scarborough said in a column for the Washington Post last fall. By suggesting that conservative candidates ditch their support for Bush in the 2006 election campaigns, Scarborough felt the wrath of Bush supporters while he garnered praise from traditional conservatives. In a recent MSNBC.com piece,
Scarborough wrote that in 2004 he, "...warned Republican leaders of a coming storm. My book "Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day" enraged party sycophants for stating the obvious — that the Republican Party risked losing its majority if it continued turning away from the conservative values that put it in power. Three years later, I'm still being attacked by Bush loyalists who seem more concerned with their president's image than their party's future."
This cult of personality business raises a few questions: What will become of the Bush loyalists once Bush is no longer in office? Will the divide between them and traditional conservatives narrow or widen? Will they harbor resentment for the conservatives who have abandoned Bush? Who will be the cult's next idol?
Perhaps the most critical question for liberals and conservatives alike is: Has the cult done enough damage to the Republican party to virtually guarantee a Democratic presidential victory in 2008?