TODAY I SAW a “Romney 2012″ bumper sticker on a Honda Civic. Actually, there were two identical stickers, one on each side of the back window. This is notable because it is the first piece of Romney propaganda I’ve seen this election season, leading me to conclude that the owner of said vehicle was either a Latter-Day Saint or a member of Mitt’s immediate family (which would, needless to say, make him both). Romney does not inspire the sort of fervor that manifests itself in defacing one’s car with sticker glue.
Not so Ron Paul. His name is emblazoned on lawn signs, bumper stickers, buttons, hats, and t-shirts all over creation. If the GOP selected its candidates purely on the basis of signage, Paul would win in a rout. What makes this grouchy, rumpled Texan so special? Wherefore this Pauline ardor?
Ron Paul, it says here, is a somewhat enigmatic figure, a white screen citizens may project their own political views upon—sort of like how tween girls can pour their own personalities into the empty vessel that is Bella Swan. Paul is fully aware of this, and actively encourages it. In this way, he is similar to President Obama, who, in the primary and general election four years ago, came across as a blank slate upon which bleeding-heart liberals might write their progressive dreams (and racist reactionaries their birther conspiracies). The difference, of course, is that Obama is a handsome, intelligent, engaging, charismatic young leader, with a photogenic family, while Paul looks like a lesser player from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That, and Obama won the White House.
Four years later, despite an almost-full presidential term in a spotlight of Zeus-revealing-himself-to-Semele intensity, Obama remains something of a mystery. We still don’t really have a handle on who he is. Or, to be more accurate, we have a very good idea of who he is—an imperial president unafraid to flex American muscle abroad, a taker of risks, a natural-born cooperator unwilling to accept that the rival party would rather destroy the economy than meet him halfway, and a pragmatist of the highest order.
And yet the perceptions of him from 2008, on both right and left, persist—and none of them are true. Here are seven things Obama is decidedly not:
1. A socialist.
I’m not sure where this odd notion originated. Was it from the glossed lips of Sarah Palin, in the midst of her “death panel” railing against his healthcare program? The op-eds by right-wing pundits after his bail-out of General Motors? This is pretty weak evidence. Obamacare is nothing close to the European-style universal coverage we liberals wanted (and want). As for GM, if buying a company when it’s down, making it run more efficiently, and then selling it at a profit is socialist, then Mitt Romney is Louis Auguste Blanqui.
2. An environmentalist.
The organic garden at the White House makes for good copy, but that’s Michelle, not Barack, who is unlikely to chain himself to a tree anytime soon. Fracking is the centerpiece of his energy policy. He’s given major ground to oil companies. He stalled on the Keystone XL pipeline before bowing to pressure from environmentalist groups and passing…but will likely approve the proposal after the election. Conclusion: He’s our first black president; he’s not our first green one.
3. A bringer of peace.
When he won the Nobel Peace Prize, nine months into his presidency, we envisioned MLK 2.0—the sort of transcendent, transformative leader who could rally the entire world to his cause. We did not imagine a stone-cold killer who shuffles a deck of terrorist playing cards to determine whom to take out via drone strike. The Nobel committee was misinformed. Badly. Obama is closer to Stringer Bell than Martin Luther King.
4. A proponent of class warfare.
Obama extended the Bush tax cuts—cuts that put the top marginal tax rate at almost a third of what it was for most of the 20th century. And although Wall Streeters publicly loathe him, he’s been their lapdog. His economic team, featuring many of the people responsible for the economic crisis, is meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss. If Obama wants class warfare, so did George W. Bush.
5. A Muslim.
He did not close Gitmo, where a number of Muslims are indefinitely imprisoned. He took out Bin Laden, Gaddafi, scores of al-Qaeda operatives, and many Muslim civilians (including some children) via drone stike. All of which seems an unusual way to pay homage to Allah. Furthermore, one of those hateful PAC-funding billionaires had to be talked out of financing a series of ads portraying Obama as the white-hating, angry devotee of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He can’t be both, can he?
6. A foreigner.
He released the long form, people. He was born in Hawaii. And even if he wasn’t…it’s a little late now. What do the birthers want him to do? Resign? Can you make a sitting president who has the legal power to decide an America citizen is a terrorist and then have him whacked via drone strike, without a trial, leave office on a technicality? Kenya?
7. A liberal.