Up close with the cult of Obama

I'm in New York, my first time in the US, and it is a truly alien environment. I have witnessed no shootings or high-speed car chases, and I have encountered only one man masturbating in Central Park. The train emergency instructions, on every subway ticket, include the mystifying edict: 'Do not pull the emergency cord.' This may be the land of the free, but it is also the home of single-ply loo roll.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

People are talking about the election campaign and their hopes for a President Obama, and the personality cult is extreme. On street corners there are people selling fake Obama T-shirts and badges. Can you imagine any normal person purchasing T-shirts sporting the face of Brown, Cameron or Clegg?

This has to inform what we can bring back from the US for our own campaigning. A lot of Barack Obama's attraction has been in his charisma. Yet he is also an organiser who has driven his campaigners to include people. At every level, his campaign has sought to empower voters, which is reflected in the enormous sums raised for it from small donations.

There is a barrier between being a supporter and being an activist. The Democrat campaign is dedicated to lowering this barrier and ensuring that as soon as a person feels they want to do something, they are faced with multiple online opportunities to do it, whether it be in campaigning or by giving a donation.

Millions of people have been activated through this principle of empowerment. Yet this presents Obama with a self-made political imperative. It seems likely he will win the presidency. But he has raised people's expectations and they will want the same high standard of engagement and inclusion from the President that they have enjoyed from the candidate.

And this is recognised by Obama. He is believed to have plans to get State and Federal agencies to open their doors, using new media to inform and engage the public. But government is a big beast and if he does not fulfil or manage the expectations, then the public could turn against him in two years' time, denting his expected majority in Capitol Hill at the 2010 elections.

Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blogs Labourhome and Recess Monkey.

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