Monday, February 6, 2012

The Obama Straw Man

If you've been keeping up with the Republican Primary as much as we have (which is probably not good for your health) then you've probably noticed that when the candidates are not taking swipes at each other they can all come together to agree that President Barack Obama is the worst thing to ever happen to America since rap music.  Indeed, when Michelle Bachmann was still on the stage, her entire stump speech was effectively a 30-minute infomercial about the evils of one President Obama.  The remaining candidates (Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul) are all too happy to tell us about how Obama has caused the down economy, weakened our military, created a government controlled health care system, attacked big business, hasn't provided a jobs bill...and the list goes on and on.  As somebody who you could say "does this for a living," I've come to observe that much of this rhetoric is simply par for the course for a Republican primary.  Mere "red meat," if you will, aimed at stirring the emotions of the Republican voters who want nothing more than to reinforce their beliefs that Obama is a low down dirty socialist, Kenyan-born Muslim who is coming for our guns...or something to that effect.  That is, after all, how you get votes in politics: know thy audience.  If the crowd wants to hear Obama is a socialist who destroyed big business, then, by all means, scream it from the mountain tops.  There's only one problem with all of this rhetoric - none of it is based on what Obama actually did.  Instead, it's based on what Republicans think Obama did.  Big difference.

Sure, some of it is "based" in reality, but it's more along the lines of how the Blair Witch Project was "based" on reality.  Which is to say, there's just a little bit of truth in there and the rest is all creative licensing gone awry.  When I hear the GOP talk about Obama I can't help but think to myself "man, that guy they're talking about sure sucks!" followed immediately by "...but what's he have to do with Obama?"  Take, for example, the claim made by Mitt Romney at his New Hampshire victory speech:

He doesn’t see the need for overwhelming American military superiority.  I will insist on a military so powerful no one would think of challenging it.
This drew much applause from the fired up crowd, no doubt, because it feeds into the Republican narrative that Obama is weak when it comes to the military.  He doesn't see the need for overwhelming American military superiority???  The guy who killed Osama bin Laden?  (we could really stop right there) The guy who killed Anwar al-Awlaki?  The guy who led other nations in the effort to oust Muammar el-Qaddafi without the loss of a single U.S. life?  The guy who has more than doubled the number of predator and reaper drone strikes in the middle east since the Bush administration?  The guy who has increased the U.S. military budget every single year he's been in office?  The guy who has increased the number of ships in the U.S. Navy at a higher rate than his predecessor? The guy who just had Seal Team 6 wipe out an entire Somalian militia last week because they dared to kidnap a single American? You mean that guy?  There are many areas where President Obama needs improvement, but he's kind of got that whole "overwhelming American military superiority" thing under control, folks.

Another claim that goes beyond the realm of acceptable political spin and into the "liar liar pants on fire" zone is the claim from Republicans that Obama has not put forward a jobs bill.  After millions of Americans witnessed Obama say again and again "pass this jobs bill right now!" to a recalcitrant Congress, you have to wonder how Republicans can make this claim with a straight face.  Even folks who don't keep up with politics can remember that one.

These are the kinds of things that sound cool to a Republican audience but when you care to look at the facts for 5 minutes, you see that the whole claim is one big straw man based on a distortion of Obama's record instead of the actual record itself.  There is certainly much in Obama's actual record that one could attack (high unemployment, the individual mandate in "Obamacare," the failure to close Gitmo, etc.) without resorting to fabrications.

If Republicans (read: Mitt Romney - the likely candidate) can't focus in on Obama's actual record it may pose a problem for Republicans in the general election, especially if the unemployment rate continues to drop below 8%.  Indeed, if that happens, it will be virtually impossible to sell the American people on the idea that we are all somehow imagining the good economy that we see around us.  It would behoove Republicans to concentrate on what Obama has actually done as opposed to this straw man that they've created.  Creating a political movement based on a straw man only works during a primary where the other guy doesn't have a voice to correct the record.  Once Obama's billion-dollar political machine gives him a microphone in the general election, all of that changes.  If the GOP's only charges against Obama at that point still focus on this straw man, they may find that it's too late to change gears.

1. Can the Obama Straw Man stick in a general election?
2. Will the GOP maintain this strategy?
3. Is the straw man working on independent voters?
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