In my years as a political operative, we had one basic rule—know your opponent. Knowing your opponent is essential to developing an alternate narrative, exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses, and anticipating his or her countermoves. Republicans appear to have chosen to ignore the rule. After listening to months of debates among Republican candidates vying for the nomination, I have concluded they are running against the Obama they have created, not the real Obama.
The slow pace of the economic recovery has made Obama’s reelection uncertain at best. The aura of hope and change from the 2008 campaign is long gone. While Obama’s record is highly defensible, he remains, according to polls, vulnerable in the swing states. And yet, there is a growing sense that Obama’s chances of reelection are better now than they were last summer after the disastrous fiasco on the debt ceiling debate.
A lot of that has to do with the Republicans’ rhetoric about Obama. It is highly inflammatory and intensely personal in tone—but it is also almost entirely disconnected from the facts. Obama is often made out to be a radical socialist trying to impose a European-style welfare state on the U.S. But while he is widely depicted as a menacing figure, Republicans also say he is the weakest leader since Jimmy Carter. The premises are obviously contradictory—why worry about Obama if he is so completely unable to exercise his powers?
Republicans also say that his economic policies have brought the American economy to the brink of ruin, that he has brought record deficits and debt thereby creating a Greek-style menace to America’s future economic security. At the same time, Obama is reputedly weakening America’s military might while apologizing for the country’s greatness. For several years now, American conservatives have portrayed him as an apostle of famed community organizer Saul Allinsky, arguing that he is hiding an agenda aimed at subverting true American values. And who can forget the polemic around his birth certificate and the apparent need “to take our country back”? (Take the country back from whom, exactly?)
The painting of this picture of Obama started with Sarah Palin’s unsubstantiated assertions in the 2008 campaign. From there, the birther nonsense got a brief but thorough airing via Donald Trump’s silly flirtation with a presidential run, but the more systematic demonization of Obama has persisted thanks to Tea Party advocates and those candidates still competing in the GOP primary in Florida.
Yet Obama is not a radical, nor is he a socialist, and he does not go around the world apologizing for America. His signature healthcare reform package copied Mitt Romney’s model in Massachussetts, handing 50 million more customers to the private healthcare industry. This is not socialism. As for Saul Alinsky, he died when Obama was 11 and his book, “Rules for Radicals,” has been distributed among early advocates of the Tea Party by conservative groups like Freedom Works.
When Obama took office, he inherited a negative growth economy that was losing 750,000 jobs a month. Once he assumed office and passed his job creation package, the economy began to grow again. It has created over 3 million private sector jobs in 3 years—more than were created during the eight years of George W.Bush’s Administration. A majority of economists, even conservative ones, agree that the stimulus measures prevented an economic contraction that could have been more disastrous than the Great Depression.
More than 2/3 of the increase of the national debt can be traced back to Bush-era policies, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the drug prescription program initiated under Bush. Obama supported the controversial TARP, but most of the money given to the financial sector has since been recuperated. The bailout of GM was a success and a leaner GM is back as the number one car maker in the world.
In national security, Obama and Hillary Clinton have registered some unquestionable successes: Americans are out of Iraq; al-Qaeda is severely depleted since the elimination of Osama bin Laden and many of his senior operatives; dictators like Mubarak and Gadhafi have been removed from power; and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. The defence budget under Obama has increased yearly.
My point is that the Obama the Republicans are campaigning to defeat is a fabrication; the GOP has grown disconnected from reality. Romney and Gingrich—possibly even Santorum—might be doing better if they offered a vision to counter the real Obama rather than the one they’ve created.