President Barack Obama's campaign of images, emotions, and themes won him tremendous popularity – and the presidency. Now, his poll numbers are dragging, his followers disillusioned. To understand the 'ruler cult' cycle, we must look to ancient Roman emperors like Augustus.
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.
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