[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
Bill Maher, in relaying his last "New Rule" on the Jan. 27 episode of "Real Time," returned to an argument about the GOP presidential race that he has advanced regularly:
"You know, Republicans have created this completely fictional president. His name is Barack X. And he's an Islamo-socialist revolutionary who is 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."
(You can watch the clip of the whole "New Rule" here or read the transcript here.)
Maher isn't really exaggerating. Contrary to the fictional stories told by Republicans, the president has cut taxes (taxes are lower under Obama than they were under Ronald Reagan, and the tax burden on Americans is the lowest it's been since 1950), raised the military budget, been more aggressive in fighting Islamist militants than his predecessor (bin Laden and numerous dead Taliban and al-Qaida leaders would attest to this fact if they could, as well as all those hit by increased drone attacks, not to mention--although they're not Islamists--Qadafi and all the Somali pirates who have met their demise on the business end of American military hardware), and has not proposed or supported any anti-gun legislation (instead, signing a bill that included a Republican amendment allowing guns in national parks).
Andrew Sullivan did a great job in January of laying out the Obama created by the GOP and then showing how the facts spoil the Republican fiction.
And, to be clear, we're not just talking about fringe right-wing attention-seekers making stuff up about Obama. The GOP presidential frontrunner (is he still?), Mitt Romney, accused Obama of "putting free enterprise on trial" and delusionally claimed:
"President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others."
Apparently, extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy makes you an opponent of free enterprise, and continuing the bailout of the banks makes you a proponent of wealth redistribution.
(And if Rick Santorum is now the front-runner, which I don't buy, well, he makes Romney look clear-eyed regarding the president. According to Santorum, Obama wants Iran to have nuclear weapons, has "overt hostility to faith," has failed to fight "militant socialism," defunded abstinence-only programs because he wants "people to be in poverty," etc.)
But even as commentators start to note the GOP effort to create a fictional Barack Obama, it looks like Republicans have decided to double down on the stupid. That is, they have strayed from plausible lies (lies that, to the uninformed, could feel true) to absurd ones.
For example, on Tuesday, Sean Hannity made the ridiculous comment that Osama bin Laden's death "wouldn't have happened if he [Obama] had his way."
Really think about what he said for a second. When SEAL Team Six went into Pakistan to take out bin Laden, who gave the order? Here's a hint: He has an oval-shaped office in the White House. If Obama didn't want bin Laden killed, bin Laden would still be alive.
(Oh, and you'll notice the president didn't ask for Pakistan's permission to breach its borders, nor did he offer any apologies for doing so.)
By now, the story of the bin Laden mission is well known. Success was not assured. The president weighed all of the information at his disposal, which had been accumulated from years of bin Laden surveillance since his inauguration, and he took a calculated risk to approve the mission. According to Vice President Biden, when the president's senior advisers made their final recommendations, nobody (with the exception of CIA Director Leon Panetta) gave an unqualified yes. Most waffled. Biden offered a solid no. But the president opted to go forward.
If the mission had failed, Hannity would have surely placed the blame on Obama for making a reckless decision. But it worked. And now he's saying the president didn't want it to happen?
To throw a little more absurd syrup on top of the bat-s%#t-crazy sundae, remember that Obama didn't just succeed in getting bin Laden; he made it a priority, unlike his predecessor, who said, "I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you."
In short, Hannity says the president who prioritized finding bin Laden and made the difficult and risky decision to take out the al-Qaida leader (something the previous president couldn't be bothered with) didn't really want to kill him.
This is the level of absurdity to which the right has sunk in creating a fake Barack Obama.
Maybe this is all a good sign. Maybe, despite gains in the 2010 midterms (when the Republicans successfully created a fake health care law: Death panels! Care for illegal immigrants! They're taking your Medicare!), the GOP doesn't think it can beat the real Obama in November. Or maybe Republicans are worried by the numerous instances of buyer's remorse since November 2010, with successful candidate and statute recalls in Wisconsin, Ohio and Maine, as well as recent polls showing the GOP in trouble in Ohio and Obama doing relatively well in the battleground states.
Whatever the reason, the American people may be easily fooled at times, but nobody outside of the right-wing echo chamber will believe that Barack Obama didn't want to kill bin Laden. (That's even less believable than the idea that the guy who opted to fight in Vietnam and was awarded three purple hearts was a coward, while the guy who pulled strings to get into the National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam was a courageous leader, right?)
The Republican construction of a fake Barack Obama has gone off the rails. I hope the GOP keeps it up, as it only helps Obama's chances in November.