Two years ago, Democrats were clamoring to ride in on Barack Obama’s coat tails. Proximity to the Obama persona was a prized political asset.
Today, amid dim presidential polling numbers, anxious Democrats are keeping their distance. Some, like Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, have even used campaign ads to tout their defiance of Mr. Obama’s agenda.
To understand Obama’s fall, we must understand his rise; and to do that, we must look to ancient history. It was neither for his resume nor his policies that America fell in love with him. In fact, Obama’s policy priorities have turned out to be quite unpopular.
It was instead by following the lead of Rome’s greatest emperors that Obama won (temporarily) America’s awe and devotion. This sort of ruler cult begins to crumble, of course, when the ruler is required to make decisions and take positions under unprecedented media scrutiny.
In the art of self-promotion through images, Obama’s closest parallels lived long before the age of YouTube and the 24-hour news cycle. Rome’s first emperor, Augustus (63 BC – AD 14), was a master of manipulating what “mass media” there was. Through the propagation of carefully crafted, semi-divine portrait types, vague but appealing buzzwords, and abstract association with heroes of the past, Augustus and his successors won the public’s support.
Augustus’ fixed “portrait-type” was disseminated and recreated for public consumption across the empire in the form of statues, coins, and other artworks. Archaeologist Paul Zanker’s “Power of Images in the Age of Augustus” describes this contrived likeness as “a calm, elevated expression” marked by “a timeless and remote dignity” – not unlike the blue-and-red portrait type designed for Obama by guerrilla-marketer Shepard Fairey.
Read More: By Jack Carlson, CSM
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