Media meltdown: Antichrist edition

Most people complain about how long this campaign season has been, but I’ve loved every minute of it. The primaries, the world tour, the advertisements — I can’t get enough.

Certainly the Barack Obama campaign has been the more exciting one over the last few months, but last week John McCain’s staff came out of nowhere with advertisements. There was the one that compared the celebrity of Obama to that of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. (Who didn’t love Paris’ response?) And there was McCain’s “The One” ad (right) that mocks the Messianic words and imagery used by Obama’s campaign. Both were wildly popular and elicited howls of protest. McCain was accused of racism, racist sexual innuendo, using phallic imagery for evil, shooting the ads to evoke Triumph of the Will (they used news footage), and comparing Obama to Chairman Mao.

And now he’s being accused of calling Obama the Antichrist.

And no, I’m not joking. I mean, I love a conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but I’m sorry to report that Amy Sullivan, who is a great writer, liberal Democrat, evangelical Christian and Time staffer, argues that “The One” isn’t poking sarcastic fun at the Messiah complex but is a secret dog whistle to the conservative evangelical community. Perhaps it is true that no one can make fun of Obama! Here’s her not-so-subtle lede comparing the ad to one accused of race-baiting:

It’s not easy to make the infamous Willie Horton ad from the 1988 presidential campaign seem benign. But suggesting that Barack Obama is the Antichrist might just do it.

She goes on to say that some Christian Democrats are claiming McCain’s ad taps into widely-held views on radio, blogs and circulated e-mails that accuse Obama of being the Antichrist.

The thing is that there is a discussion — though it’s either complete humor or extreme fringe — that Obama is the Antichrist. And it’s a solid idea for a story. The thing is, in a country whose civil religion is largely one-Kingdom Protestant, where folks on the left and the right use the words of Scripture to argue for specific legislation, applying the spiritual language of the Antichrist to current public figures is hardly uncommon. You can basically type in the name of any national star and the word “Antichrist” into the Google and get a result. There’s Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, John Edwards, John Kerry, Al Gore, the entire British Royal Family and, for good measure, more George W. Bush. Some allege Gary Coleman is the Antichrist. Even beloved Muppet Bert is a candidate for the horned dragon of darkness. Okay, just kidding about the last two. But I half think that “Antichrist” is synonym for “politician I oppose” in the American vernacular.

Still, alleging that McCain is painting Obama as the Antichrist is insanevery serious business. Sullivan quotes tons of Obama defenders freaking out about comparisons to the descriptions in the Left Behind apocalyptic fiction series, such as Tony Campolo: She points out that the ad was created by a “close friend” of Ralph Reed and nephew of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe — and we know what that means! Actually, I have no idea how that supports the Antichrist allegations. Here’s a snippet:

As the ad begins, the words “It should be known that in 2008 the world shall be blessed. They will call him The One” flash across the screen. The Antichrist of the Left Behind books is a charismatic young political leader named Nicolae Carpathia who founds The One World religion (slogan: “We are God”) and promises to heal the world after a time of deep division. One of several Obama clips in the ad features the senator saying, “A nation healed, a world repaired. We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.”

The thing that is so amazing about Sullivan’s piece — which, again, is built around an interesting topic — is that it lacks any balance at all. Obama defenders may say the ad is unfair or awful, but it uses the actual words of Obama (e.g. “We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.”) and the language of his campaign (e.g. Oprah campaigning for him by telling voters he’s “The One.”). It’s not like it’s laying out a subtle case using Biblical texts about the Antichrist. Almost all of Sullivan’s premise for the Antichrist parallels is the Left Behind series, which is somewhat odd. Sullivan says that unnamed McCain defenders say the ad was “humorous” and “creative” but there is no actual discussion of whether this Antichrist allegation is in any way reasonable. There isn’t even a single quote from anyone who is not a Democratic operative. It seems someone else could have been consulted. Instead, there are these completely unsourced claims:

The visual images in the ad, which Davis says has been viewed even more than the McCain’s “Celeb” ad linking Obama to the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, also seem to evoke the cover art of several Left Behind books. But they’re not the cartoonish images of clouds parting and shining light upon Obama that might be expected in an ad spoofing him as a messiah. Instead, the screen displays a sinister orange light surrounded by darkness and later the faint image of a staircase leading up to heaven.

ObamaNapeThere was also this:

It’s not hard to see how some Obama-haters might be tempted to make the comparison. In the Left Behind books, Carpathia is a junior senator who speaks several languages, is beloved by people around the world and fawned over by a press corps that cannot see his evil nature, and rises to absurd prominence after delivering just one major speech. Hmmh. But serious Antichrist theorists don’t stop there. Everything from Obama’s left-handedness to his positive rhetoric to his appearance on the cover of this magazine has been cited as evidence of his true identity. One chain email claims that the Antichrist was prophesied to be “A man in his 40s of MUSLIM descent,” which would indeed sound ominous if not for the fact that the Book of Revelation was written at least 400 years before the birth of Islam.

It is all well and good to point out the error of fact in the e-mail. But I have to point out that if Amy Sullivan thinks that the comparison between Nicolas Carpathia and Obama is based in part on the speaking of several languages, that is also an error of fact. Despite his tut-tutting about Americans speaking only English, Obama doesn’t speak any foreign language. There is no comparison on that basis. Anyway, as a piece of political polemic, Sullivan’s article is fun and interesting and, sure, unhinged. And I realize that Time and the other newsweeklies are sort of abandoning their former stated stance of neutrality, but the piece would be better if it didn’t make all conservative evangelical Christians sound like closet racists with two horns and a tail.

One piece of news analysis that did seem more balanced was Ben Smith’s in the Politico. He basically points out that Obama’s supporters have occasionally cast him in literally messianic terms.

I keep pointing back to that Pew survey that blamed the media for reporting on discrete events rather than the underlying subtext and context at play. Sullivan’s piece takes the discrete event of the McCain ad and tries very hard to tie it to some Antichrist discussions that may be happening. A better piece would tie all that also into the messianic language of the Obama campaign.

Image via Exurban League.

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  • Carl

    Slacktivist accuses this ad of portraying Obama as the Anti-Christ in the PMD/Left Behind sense.

    I’m inclined to agree.

    At the same time, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily out of bounds. If people don’t trust charismatic leaders, is it wrong to point out that your opponent is charismatic?

  • tioedong

    Some people need to get a humor transplant.

  • Chris Bolinger

    From a Salon interview with Sullivan:

    You were raised a Baptist, but you now prefer to call yourself an evangelical Christian?

    Yeah…I really got in touch with what made me an evangelical…It has everything to do with the fact that like most evangelicals, I rely more on the teachings of the Bible than the teachings of a church. It’s very much a personal relationship with God, a personal interpretation of biblical teachings.

    And a personal definition of what constitutes an “evangelical”. That’s the great thing about the term; it can mean whatever you want it to mean. And the Bible can, too. Just apply your own personal interpretation. It’s just you and Jesus, baby.

    Just another example of the media, or a member of the media, attempting to co-opt a term and redefine it. That’s the way we play the game in post-modern America.

    As for the Time article, to say that Sullivan has gone off the deep end is an understatement of, um, Biblical proportions.

  • Darel

    With all the “Obama is the Messiah” talk coming from the senator’s supporters for years (my current favorite, from Spike Lee: “When that [Obama's election] happens, it will change everything. … You’ll have to measure time by ‘Before Obama’ and ‘After Obama’”), you knew the payback was coming. Recognizing Obama’s near-deification by his supporters would have put this story in an important context.

  • FW Ken

    The problem to which Chris Bolinger points in #3 is critical in religious discussions. “Personal” and “private” are different matters. The former term describes the relationship of the self to the other in a relationship; the latter describes the self as autonomous.

    Sullivan says “personal” when she clearly means “private”.

  • str1977

    I liked the phrase “using phallic imagery for evil”.

    We all know that using phallic imagery for good is the way to go. ;-)

  • str1977

    What I see is:

    1. A pro-McCain ad poking fun at Obama’s Messiah-like selfportrayal.

    2. That one blogger is seeing parallels between such a portrayal and the Anti-christ.

    What I don’t get is, why bash McCain for it. If you think someone who walks around like Obama is akin to the Anti-christ, why not call on Obama himself.

    Ah yes, the answer is clear: it is not actually McCain (people) smearing Obama here but one Obama people trying to smear McCain.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    The money quote:

    “The Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the series, said in an interview that he recognized allusions to his work in the ad”

    If the king of Antichrist pop-literature says it is so, there must be something there beyond liberal conspiracy theories.

  • Stephen A.

    Jason, selectively quoted him out of context:

    The Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the series, said in an interview that he recognized allusions to his work in the ad but comparisons between Sen. Obama and the antichrist are incorrect.

    “The antichrist isn’t going to be an American, so it can’t possibly be Obama. The Bible makes it clear he will be from an obscure place, like Romania,” the 82-year-old author said.

    I do find the second sentence absolutely hilarious, though.

    The Bible, of course, makes no mention of an obscure place, let alone Romania, which is far from obscure.

    This *may* be another case of people (liberals) seeing phantoms where there are none. Like the “racism” jab at the Paris/Britney ad. Give me a break!

    (um, is it just my browser, or is everyone seeing a dead image and no text in this posting, above?)

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “quoted him out of context”

    I did no such thing.

    He made two statements, that he saw allusions to his work in the ads, and that, in his opinion, Obama isn’t the Antichrist. Quoting one without the other doesn’t take it “out of context”.

    The point being, that if one of the main popularizers of End-Times lore recognizes his work in an ad, then there might be something beyond liberal conspiracy theories.

  • Jerry

    A pro-McCain ad poking fun at Obama’s Messiah-like selfportrayal

    Here we go again. Rove may not be actively involved in the Republican campaign, but his methods certainly are.

    The truth is that a few people supporting him have accorded him the hero worship “properly” reserved for musicians, sports figures and media celebrities. Obama’s charisma reminds this old timer of JFK’s.

    Those opposed to Obama conflate that deliberately or unconsciously with “Messianic” themes and seek to pin an evil label on him – to try to swiftboat him using religious imagry.

  • Stephen A.

    Jason, it’s not so much a conspiracy theory as a manufactured story. Any elderly author who’s approached and asked if there’s an affinity between the antichrist and a liberal Democrat – or a Web ad showing adoring crowds and a charismactic leader – will surely say “Uh, yeah. Of course there are ALLUSIONS to the Antichrist.” That’s Trickery Journalism, and it’s pretty lazy.

    Basically it’s feeding a quote to someone and having them regurgitate it, or going to a source GUARANTEED to be flattered by a comparison like this.

  • Stephen A.

    Jerry, you’ve got to be kidding.

    Please take a look at some of the magazine covers featuring Obama, not to even mention the fauning inside text, and you’ll be hard-pressed to NOT see the “Obama as Messiah” motif portrayed by the media elites. – several covers, note the two TIME covers, especially.

    National Review shows a few of the more eggregious covers and posters, some surely created in jest … one hopes.

    Newsweek’s gotten in on the act, too. Note the halo effect.

    This is the (hilarious) consequense of all this Obama worship:

  • Stephen A.

    One more:

    Includes Slate’s occasional feature “Obama Messiah Watch.”

    You know Slate, the right-wing hate site?

  • Tim J.

    Sullivan is a Democratic activist, so I’d hardly expect her to try to balance out her story. Are we going to expect McCain to pad all his press releases with reasons why Obama might be a great president?

    As for other comments, there are few things I’ve found more disingenuous than the outrage over McCain’s ads, especially when they’re combined with the claim that the Obamessiah theme has been manufactured by Republicans. Maybe you’ll be able to get away with a claim like that a year from now, but our memories aren’t that short. People have been noticing it since long before the Republicans turned their guns on Obama.

    One need only note that Slate’s Obama Messiah Watch started in January of 2007, or browse the archives of ObamaMessiah, which go back quite a bit.
    So basically, the story is this: Obama supporters use Messianic rhetoric to describe him. McCain camp notices and mocks this. The horror!

  • Dave

    (um, is it just my browser, or is everyone seeing a dead image and no text in this posting, above?)

    It’s not just your browser.

  • Chris Bolinger

    It’s Internet Explorer. Try Firefox or a different browser.

  • Julia

    What is supposed to be in that blank square?

    Is it a link to the McCain ad with Moses in it?

    Is there text somewhere?

  • Jerry

    Stephen, you’re seeing things I’m not. I would hardly use the right wing National Review as an unbiased source for a story. I don’t see halos in the other multiple cover link you pointed to. But I don’t doubt that the MSM is picking up on the memes being generated from the right wing. Once someone floated that idea, it’s a natural for the sensational-loving MSM to pick up. We’ve seen that over and over again in the past few years.

  • tmatt


    You are suggesting that NR faked the covers or altered them in a dishonest way?

  • Stephen A.

    Jerry, if you don’t like NR, will an article highlighting the numerous halo-effect photos of Obama (and his wife!) from SLATE help?

    Washington Post writer Deborah Howell even wrote an article expressing some shock at the number and style of Obama photos that have run in her paper, including how often the Obama pics showed him smiling. And she’s far from a right-wing shill.

    I know this link HERE is to a Right-Wing blog, but it does illustrate and compare one photo to a traditional religious image, and I found that interesting (and relevant here.)

  • Linda

    People have been posting comments all over the Internet for many months that called Obama the anti-Christ. It is highly probable that the McCain campaign was aware of the posting. Some of the comments are very long and include references to scripture, such as Revelation 13:5 that the anti-Christ will be given a “mouth speaking great things.”

    A major point is being missed about McCain’s ads. Everyone of the ads contain false statements. The media almost never tells the viewers about the false statements.

    Obama did say “We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.” Obama has always focused on the fact the he alone cannot make big change. The “we” is to encourage people to help.

    The opposite was seen from Hillary Clinton. She frequently use if you elect me “I will.” McCain does the same thing, “I know how to win wars,” “I know how to find bin laden.”

    The symbol quote was wrong, although it did not stop the media from dwelling on it for days. Anyone that has spent much time watch Obama’s speeches and reading his books would know it is not something he would say. Obama is very humble.

    According to that aide, Obama said, “It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign — that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have just become a symbol.”

    A website, “Across the Pond”, is a joint German-American blog about the U.S. election campaign 2008 with a focus on international aspects of the presidential race. One of the articles stated that one of the major reasons that Obama is popular in Europe – he is not George Bush.

    The Paris Britney ad angered people in Germany. An Across the Pound article was titled, “McCain And The Republicans: Wir Sind Keine Berliner” (We Were Not Berliners)

    McCain’s spokesman Tucker Bounds said Obama prefered to speak to “fawning Germans” instead of visiting a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

    Politician Wants McCain Apology for “Fawning Germans” Remark

    Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the European Parliament

    Obama addressed a 200,000-strong cheering crowd in downtown Berlin last week in a speech which received huge coverage in the international media.

    Lambsdorff wrote that he, and the German public, was surprised and dismayed by the comments, according to the newspaper.

    He added that Germany hoped Europe and the United States were entering a more constructive period for transatlantic ties, which is why McCain should “so quickly and clearly as

    possible” retract the insulting comment by Bounds.,2144,3521716,00.html

    Obama’s Celebrity Cred, July 30, 2008 (Paris Hilton and Britney Spears)

    A new McCain ad calls Obama a celebrity (true) who says he’ll raise taxes on electricity (false).

    More Tax Deceptions, August 8, 2008

    McCain misrepresents Obama’s tax proposals again. And again, and again.


    McCain released three new ads with multiple false and misleading claims about Obama’s tax proposals.

    * A TV spot claims Obama once voted for a tax increase “on people making just $42,000 a year.” That’s true for a single taxpayer, who would have seen a tax increase of $15 for the year – if the measure had been enacted. But the ad shows a woman with two children, and as a single mother, she would not have been affected unless she made more than $62,150. The increase that Obama once supported as part of a Democratic budget bill is not part of his current tax plan anyway.

    * A Spanish-language radio ad claims the measure Obama supported would have raised taxes on “families” making $42,000, which is simply false. Even a single mother with one child would have been able to make $58,650 without being affected. A family of four with income up to $90,000 would not have been affected.

    * The TV ad claims in a graphic that Obama would “raise taxes on middle class.” In fact, Obama’s plan promises cuts for middle-income taxpayers and would increase rates only for persons with family incomes above $250,000 or with individual incomes above $200,000.

    * The radio ad claims Obama would increase taxes “on the sale of your home.” In fact, home-sale profits of up to $500,000 per couple would continue to be exempt from capital gains taxes. Very few sales would see an increase under Obama’s proposal to raise the capital gains rate.

    * A second radio ad, in English, says, “Obama has a history of raising taxes” on middle-class Americans. But that’s false. It refers to a vote that did not actually result in a tax increase and could not have done so.

    These ads continue what’s become a pattern of misrepresentation by the McCain campaign about his opponent’s tax proposals.

    Additional analysis

  • Stephen A.

    Linda, Obama is just one of a VERY long line of candidates… for Anti-Christ, that is, starting with the Emperor Nero. The fact that some Christians have tried to label him as the latest in that long line is not surprising, except perhaps to those in the media who don’t understand that practice.

    While this isn’t a political site, let me *briefly* note that I don’t believe most people interpret the “We” in Obama’s statement “We are the ones we’re waiting for” as the “Royal We.” It’s just that it’s an arrogant and kind of odd statement to be making.

    The very first statement by the increasingly partisan factchect group you cited acknowledges that yes, taxes would rise on an individual. Obama has also said he’d tax the oil companies, which could indeed drive up the cost of fuel. However, assessing the tax policies of the candidates seems to be out of the purview of this blog.

  • Linda

    Stephen A. says

    assessing the tax policies of the candidates seems to be out of the purview of this blog

    My major point was McCain making false statements in every ad. While people want to call Obama the Anti-Christ, I would think they would be more concerned with someone that would lie to get votes. The issues are serious, such as taxes, social security, Medicare, etc. I could think of several things from the Bible to call McCain.

    Stephen A. says

    I don’t believe most people interpret the “We” in Obama’s statement “We are the ones we’re waiting for” as the “Royal We.” It’s just that it’s an arrogant and kind of odd statement to be making.

    I strongly disagree that Obama’s statement is arrogant. I think it is the opposite of arrogant. It is one of his campaign themes. “We” is inclusive. It is designed to get people motivated to take actions, including such things as joining the peace corp, working on environmental issues, and a long list of other things.

    People are frustrated with the last eight years. Many have given-up the possibility that anything they do can make a difference because big government steps on their rights and does not listen to their voices.

    Anyone that says it will be difficult and I need your help is not arrogant. It is the constant media repeating “is Obama arrogant?” and other people twisting the words and not taking them in context that causes people to think he is arrogant. John McCain does not want to focus on his policies, instead he is using the typical Republican fear fueling attack.

    Obama ends most of his speeches with Obama “you and me together

    And you and me together will create a kind of America that we can believe in. Let’s get to work,” he said recently in the city of Concord, New Hampshire.

  • Mollie

    Don’t discuss your personal views of Obama. DIscuss the media coverage. I’ll be deleting comments that don’t follow our commenting guidelines.

  • Julia

    What used to be in that square?

  • Mollie

    Julia, I’m not sure which square you’re talking about but perhaps the YouTube video isn’t showing up in your browser? I embedded the YouTube of the ad in question.

    Here’s a link:

  • Chris Bolinger

    Folks, if you are having trouble viewing the post, try using a browser other than Internet Explorer.

  • Stephen A.

    FYI: this is the first time ever tha Internet Explorer has failed to show ANY text or images in a blog posting. I’m getting a dead image and NO text in IE, but in other browsers it’s working fine. Maybe this was posted differently?