Much of Barack Obama's rhetoric is about unity: unity between black and white, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, America and the rest of the world - and now, I suppose, between men and women. Yet of late he has seemed surprisingly divisive. On the radio this morning I heard a disappointed supporter of Hillary Clinton - a lifelong Democrat, indeed - declare that she would be voting for John McCain. Her sentiment stemmed, it seemed to me, from incomprehension. How could Hillary have lost - and lost to this man, of little apparent experience, a practitioner of empty if inspiring rhetoric? She just didn't get it. And in doing so she revealed herself as being on one side of the great divide that has opened up in American politics, the watershed that will define the coming election campaign: the divide between those who "get" Obama, and those who don't.
Some of the wilder manifestations of "Obamamania" - the fainting, the hypnotic chants of "Yes we can", the quasi-messianic expectations - have been toned down recently. But there's still a vagueness about his speeches which critics take for lack of substance; and, not getting it, they assume that the whole Obama phenomenon is a bubble that will surely burst. In some ways, I sympathise. I never "got" Tony Blair. Even in his early days, when even Tory-supporting newspapers were giving him a free ride, I could never see him as anything other than hammy and incipiently deranged. Yet I find myself being inspired by Obama. Am I going soft in the head? Is it the effect of distance?
Possibly. For all his talk of change, there is as yet very little indication as to what an Obama presidency would actually be like. His campaign thus far has been pure personality politics, with the politics taken out. What I can't decide is the extent to which this is a bad thing. The US presidency is an office in which it is much easier to do damage than to change things for the better. The best presidents have been inspirers. The worst, on the other hand, has used his two terms to destroy his country's international reputation, for which we are all worse off. If Obama, by impressive rhetoric, or merely by looking and sounding so different from his predecessor, can raise the image of America, we will all have reason to be profoundly grateful. If the world is to have a superpower, let it be a free, open and democratic one, not a tyranny like China or a stifling bureaucratic nightmare like the EU. But the US can't go it alone. It can only lead the world if the world is willing to be led; and my guess is that a large part of the world is willing to be led by Obama.
So I'm happy to go along with the overblown oratory and charisma of the Illinois senator, despite a deep-seated suspicion of emotional manipulation. But I sometimes wonder. In the San Francisco Chronicle the other day, Mark Morford put forward a bizarre explanation for Obama's sudden success, for his ability to lift crowds and inspire a nation. Put simply, Morford appears to be saying, Barack is not of this world. He has a "powerful luminosity, a high-vibration integrity," which marks him out as something extraordinary:
Dismiss it all you like, but I've heard from far too many smart, spiritually attuned people who've been blown away by Obama's presence - not speeches, not policies, but sheer presence - to say it's just a clever marketing ploy, a slick gambit carefully orchestrated by hotshot campaign organizers who, once Obama gets into office, will suddenly turn from perky optimists to vile, soul-sucking lobbyist whores with Obama as their suddenly evil, cackling overlord.
Here's where it gets gooey. Many spiritually advanced people (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) I know identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of calmly enlightened being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of connecting with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a high order, and they reignite the soul.
The unusual thing is, true Lightworkers almost never appear on such a brutal, spiritually empty stage as national politics. This is why Obama is so rare. And this is why he is so often compared to JFK and Martin Luther King Jr., to those leaders in our culture whose compelling vibrations still resonate throughout our short history.
Just to prove he's not quite of this world himself, Mystic Morford speculates in an aside about the assassination of President Kennedy:
Those attuned to energies beyond the shallow, literal meanings of things say JFK wasn't assassinated for any typical reason you can name. It's because he was just this kind of high-vibration being, a peacemaker, at odds with the war machine, the CIA, the dark side. And it killed him.
Actually, I'm pretty sure it was Lee Harvey Oswald. But then people "attuned to energies beyond the shallow literal meanings" come out with a lot of weird shit, don't they? In his defence, Morland does write for a publication in San Francisco, international capital of fruitcakery since 1967.
Morland admits that George W Bush will not be a particularly hard act to follow. And indeed there are probably microbial life-forms buried beneath metres of Arctic permafrost that would make better presidents than the current occupant of the White House. Still, he thinks that the Bush years might have their own cosmic purpose, to "set the stage for an even larger and more fascinating stage of evolution in which we are finally truly ready for another Lightworker to step up." For Barack is much more than just an anti-Bush:
There simply is no denying that extra kick. As one reader put it, in a way, it's not even about Obama, per se. There's a vast amount of positive energy that's been held back by the armies of BushCo darkness, and this energy has now found a a lightning rod, and is now effortlessly self-organizing around Obama's candidacy. People and emotions and ideas of high and positive vibration are automatically drawn to him, because it is clear he is of the same material. It's exactly like how Bush was a magnet for the low vibrations of fear and war and oppression and aggression, but, you know, completely reversed. And different. And far, far better.
You don't need me to point out that this is all complete bollocks; an equal and opposite bollocks to the claims on the loonier shores of the religious right that Obama is a secret Muslim, or even the Antichrist. Obama has unusual charisma, that is all. So does Brad Pitt, but no-one would claim him for the planet Zog. Somehow, a characteristic deemed essential in a top-flight actor or singer, and far from uncommon among religious leaders and sportspeople, causes bafflement, resentment and lunacy when possessed by a politician. Yes, it's unfair. Yes, it's no substitute for policy, intellectual depth or sincere conviction. But it's not nothing. And it certainly isn't supernatural.