Ross “I would do anything for love but I won’t” Douthat*, and Megan McArdle, among others, combine their powers to argue that the McCain ad that portrays Obama as a messiah figure cannot possibly be a sly reference to the Antichrist. McArdle sneers that once again, liberals are out-of-touch secularists, and points to Douthat for backup.

But the only people who seem to be out-of-touch here are Douthat and McArdle. That there’s a wackjob idea floating around that Obama is the Antichrist is hard to dispute. I won’t link to poor apostropher’s thread, but aside from that, when there’s a T-shirt for sale at the Redstate cafepress with ‘Obama is the Antichrist’, we can conclude that the idea has escaped at least one circle of looniness (though its escape velocity was not sufficent to escape Redstate.)

That the Antichrist is presented with well-known imagery is pretty clear from anyone who’s spent any amount of time in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. The Left Behind series was hugely popular (so no question there of whether the imagery would be easily identifiable.) Identifying bits of Revelation with various world powers and events is old hat.

Off the top of my head: growing up, the bear in Revelation represented Russia, and the eagle the United States. The locusts represent the gas masks worn by Israelis and American soldiers during Desert Storm.  ‘End times’ comes up in conversation like the word ‘recession.’ Talk of sacrifices was invariably framed in terms of abortion. Nuclear bombs could be anything. It’s something taken seriously. It doesn’t make you a loon in these circles.

So why does it seem so hard to believe that the McCain campaign would tap into this? It’s all right there! Douthat seems to think that the McCain campaign would only do so if the end result would be people literally believing that Obama is the Antichrist. He finds that implausible, so therefore liberals are out-of-touch.

But he’s badly missing the point. The intended audience doesn’t have to believe it literally, though I wouldn’t underestimate that contingent. All they need to believe is that there’s something off about this Obama character, something a little sinister. Perhaps it’s near idolatry to put that much hope in a mere man, when such faith should be reserved for God. Some reason just maybe to bother voting for McCain

It’s subtle, but it doesn’t need to write it in big block letters to be effective, even if it needs to be written in such a script to get through to Douthat.

*Never gets old. Never, ever, ever.

**I was going to speculate that as a Catholic, Douthat might not have run across this particular flavor of eschatology, but I managed to, so I conclude the problem isn’t with the Catholicism, but with Douthat. And he writes such good things about Chesterton, too! He can handle imagery there….