Barack X, the Fictional President

One of the most surprising things The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza learned from the Obama administration’s unreleased memos was this: President Obama really believed he could get Republican support if he based his programs on Republican programs, like Romney’s healthcare plan or Bush Sr.’s cap-and-trade.

Obama did not anticipate how effectively his political opponents would cast him as a polarizing figure.

So how did they do it? Bill Mahr explains:

Republicans have created this completely fictional president. His name is Barack X, and he’s an Islamo-socialist revolutionary who’s coming for your guns, raising your taxes, slashing the military, apologizing to other countries, and taking his cues from Europe, or worse yet Saul Alinsky.

And this is how politics has changed. You used to have to run against an actual candidate. But now you just recreate him inside the bubble and run against your new fictional candidate.

In the end, Obama couldn’t even get Mitt Romney’s support for Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan, or John McCain’s support for the cap-and-trade system resembling the one in the McCain-Lieberman bill of 2003.

Jay Rosen explains why not:

the [Republican] party decided not to have the fight it needed to have between reality-based Republicans and the other kind. …

When I say “reality-based Republicans” I mean those who recognize the danger in trying to make descriptions of the world conform to their wishes. … [T]he tendency toward wish fulfillment, selective memory, ideological blindness, truth-busting demagoguery and denial of the inconvenient fact remains within normal trouble-making bounds for the Democratic coalition. But it has broken through the normal limits on the Republican side, an historical development that we don’t understand very well. …

Mitt Romney, the favorite to win the Republican nomination for president in 2012, is a reality-based Republican who cannot run as a reality-based Republican because he thinks he cannot win that way. Jon Huntsman’s campaign is the proof of that calculation. All the candidates, including Romney, have to make gestures toward the alternative knowledge system, with its own facts.

If those “facts” include that the Romney-inspired healthcare plan is an unconstitutional government takeover of the entire system and a step towards socialism, then Romney has to go along if he wants to win. He also has to pretend global warming is dubious, austerity will create jobs, and that we need to get our troops back into Iraq.

If I could raise one off-the-record issue with Mitt and count on getting honest answers, this is what it would be: What’s your Bizarro-world exit strategy? Do you picture bringing your campaign back to reality at some point, say, after the convention? Or if you run a fantasy-based fall campaign and win, do you plan to govern realistically? If so, how do you plan to get your base to put up with it?

Or if not, how do you plan to get Reality to put up with it?

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  • jlmctavish  On February 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    What puzzles me is the motivation behind this fanatical “dissing” of the US President. The polarization was never nearly as strong as it is now — and this is against a president who is really a fairly centrist Democrat.
    I can think of three possibilities
    1. It is simply racist
    2. It is an attempted revenge for the (justified) scorn that was heaped on GW and his wmd fiasco.
    3. It is created by the religious right, largely unqualified political appointees left over from the last administration.
    Perhaps it’s a combination of all three.

    • weeklysift  On February 3, 2012 at 9:01 am

      Seriously, I think it’s part of the corporatization of political discourse. Lying is a normal aspect of corporate speech. Nobody faults Miller for saying that Lite beer “tastes great”. That’s just what corporations do.

      So if you come at politics with a corporate moral code, your sole question is: What’s going to work? Do the focus group. Will some people believe Obama is a Muslim? Will it motivate them to oppose him? Well, OK then. (The racism link is just that it makes people more gullible about certain kinds of negative Obama stories. I think the calculation is political, not racist.)

      Also, today’s media provides lots of mechanisms for untraceable lying. Check out the previous article “The Return of Death Panels”. The “brain surgeon” who called the talk-radio show to say Obamacare was going to end brain surgery for the elderly, and whoever wrote the viral email to publicize that audio clip — we’ll never know who they are. Nobody pays a price for that lie. So why not do it?

    • Kim Cooper  On February 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Also, the religious right are people who are accustomed to believing “Seven impossible things before breakfast”. (or is it six?)


  • By Obligations « The Weekly Sift on January 30, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    […] Barack X, the Fictional President. Bill Mahr, Jay Rosen, and the New Yorker explain what Obama is up against, and the challenge Mitt Romney has so far dodged. […]

  • […] addition, I did my usual periodic debunking: Four Fantasy Issues of the Right; Barack X, the fictional president; The Return of Death Panels; Five Pretty Lies and the Ugly Truths They Hide; followed by the […]

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