Listening to these Republican candidates talk about Obama, I often wish we actually had the kind of president they’re attacking. The paint him as some kind of progressive lion, zealously going after the super-rich on behalf of the working class, steadfastly holding to an ideology of civil liberties even if it compromises America’s safety, and systematically dismantling our empire abroad, all the while apologizing to the world for our previous transgressions. I don’t know who this person is that they keep railing against, but it’s not the Obama I know.
The fact is that the Republicans are banking on the majority of their base having a completely distorted view of the president thanks to conservative news sources like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. These media outlets have made a calculated decision to create their own narrative about who Obama is and what he wants to do, to emphasize every tiny little thing that supports that narrative and de-emphasize, ignore, or even outright lie about anything that doesn’t.
The Obama you see on Fox News is not a real person but actually a fictional character based on the stereotype of liberals that conservatives have in their minds. He wants to raise taxes, impose strict regulations on business, cut defense, eliminate gun rights, encourage more abortions and gay marriages, read terrorists their rights, and purge all religion from the public sphere. When the Republican presidential candidates talk to their debate audiences and the crowds at their campaign rallies about Obama, they’re talking about this guy, a radically liberal president who—unfortunately for them—doesn’t actually exist.
The real Obama hasn’t raised taxes. He’s far too timid to take the political risk. He’s cut taxes across the board and agreed to extend the Bush tax-cuts for two years. He says he’ll fight to let them expire next time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
As for the idea that he’s imposing crippling regulations on businesses, that is simply absurd. Barack Obama is the Goldman Sachs president. His entire financial team and his last two chiefs of staff have been Wall Street insiders, and according to internal memos it would appear that they dictate his every move in that area. The “historic financial reform” legislation that passed last year is widely acknowledged by bankers to be a complete joke. Not one of the people who caused the financial crisis of 2008 has been prosecuted for committing fraud, and Wall Street continues to thrive thanks to taxpayer bailouts (which Obama supported) while the rest of the country struggles.
I hear over and over again that Obama has drastically cut defense spending. Simply not true. Defense spending has increased every year since Obama took office, it’s just that the rate of increase has gone slightly down thanks to the cutting of a few strategically unnecessary projects like stealth-fighters designed to fight the Cold War. Some might say that it’s merely stretching the truth to refer to a slower rate of increase as a “cut”, but I call it lying.
And as for the whole general idea that Obama is weak on defense, consider his doubling-down in Afghanistan and the recent foray into Libya. He withdrew troops from Iraq but only because he was forced to under a treaty signed by the Bush administration which he tried and failed to renegotiate.
On gun rights, Obama has not lifted a finger to do anything about it, other than quietly write an op-ed on the issue after the Gabby Giffords shooting, in which he did not endorse a single reform that didn’t enjoy at least a 60% approval in polls. And afterwards he did absolutely nothing to attempt to initiate those reforms.
On social issues, one can point to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and pretend that Obama is the “fierce advocate” of gay rights that he claimed to be, but he dragged his feet on that issue for quite some time and he still refuses to publicly come out in support of gay marriage. And on abortion, what has Obama done? Nothing. He won’t even touch that issue with a ten-foot pole, so afraid is he of the potential criticism. But he will make it harder for young women to obtain birth control.
When it comes to the idea that Obama would rather read terrorists their rights than keep America safe, this is where the distance between the real Obama and the fictional Obama is at its widest. Not only has Obama continued the civil liberties abuses that began under the Bush administration, but he’s actually expanded them, to the point where now it’s written into the law that the president has the power to throw American citizens into prison without a trial purely on suspicion of ties to terrorism. He appeared to make a genuine effort to close down Guantanamo as soon as he took office, but when that failed he never brought the issue up again, and the prison remains open and could conceivably remain so for generations. He doesn’t do waterboarding anymore but he hasn’t prosecuted anyone responsible for that war crime, all the while bringing the hammer down on whistleblowers like Bradley Manning who dared to make the abuses of our military public. Finally, if you really want to know whether or not Obama is soft on terror, you can ask Osama bin Laden.
And lastly, there’s the matter of religion. Newt Gingrich told a crowd of supporters that as soon as he takes office, he’ll repeal every single anti-religious act passed by the Obama administration. That shouldn’t take long, as no such acts have been passed by the real Obama. The fictional Obama is the one carrying out this “war on religion” we keep hearing about. After all, that guy is secretly Muslim and born in Kenya, and obviously on a crusade to undermine America’s Christian moral foundation.
Running against a fictional character may work for the Republican candidates in the primary, but it’s going to blow up in their faces if they try that in the general election, which is exactly what Obama is counting on. If Mitt Romney accuses Obama in a debate of raising taxes, Obama will be poised and ready with the facts to prove that he has not. The same goes for the accusation that he’s cut defense, gone after gun rights, and so on. The major political advantage Obama has garnered for himself by going against his liberal base time and again on nearly every single issue is that the Republicans can’t make a fact-based attack on him for doing any of the things that liberal presidents are normally criticized for doing. The best they can do is say that he talked about doing such things in the 2008 campaign.
If they’re forced to run against the real Obama, there are plenty of things to criticize him for, but they are guilty of those same things themselves. Romney could expose every last way in which Obama has been a puppet of Wall Street, but he knows quite well that he’s running to be the next puppet of the very same interests.
But the truly funny thing is that aside from his ties to the financial industry, most conservatives would like the real Obama if they knew who he was. If you just changed the D in front of his name to an R and read off a list of the actions he’s taken since his term began, they’d understand him to be a moderate who is slightly left-of-center on some issues but right-of-center on most.
The real Obama governs like a moderate Republican of former days, before the party drifted off to its right-wing fringe. The real Obama would win a national election against any of these clowns the Republicans have put forward in this primary, and they know it. That’s why they have no choice but to run against a fictional character instead, and it’s why they’re going to lose the general election when the curtain is pulled back and independent voters get a good look at who Obama actually is.