Clint Eastwood’s memorable appearance at the Republican National Convention quickly inspired a meme: Conservatives are angry with an invisible President Obama, a man whom most voters simply don’t see. That explains their insistence that the president is a socialist, a Muslim, a weak and cowardly apologist for American strength.
It’s a sardonic bit of cultural commentary but a useful one: It gives voice to the gap between reality — Obama is a centrist liberal whose policies are well within the mainstream — and the tea-party-fueled fantasies about a president who is secretly plotting with the nation’s enemies. However, it turns out that the Eastwood-empty-chair meme doesn’t go far enough to explain the reality gap between the average American voter and the conservatives who make up the Republican base.
If you listen to the now-infamous video of Mitt Romney disparaging half of Americans as lazy moochers, you’ll understand that it’s not only Obama who is unrecognizable in the conservative mind-set. It’s also the nation. Republicans have not only made up a fantasy president; he is supported by an equally fanciful electorate.
In the minds of the legions who listen to Rush Limbaugh, voters support Obama only because he gives them government handouts. Furthermore, many of them are voting illegitimately, stealing elections from the reasonable Republicans who would otherwise be winning — or so that thinking goes.
Just take a look at one of the GOP’s decade-long obsessions: voter ID laws. Around the country, GOP-led state legislatures have imposed stringent requirements for specific forms of photo ID, all in the name of thwarting illegal ballots. Conservatives paint a dire picture of democracy under siege by fraudulent voters.
Never mind that in-person voter fraud — the illegitimate balloting that picture IDs are meant to prevent — is practically non-existent. An exhaustive new study of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 found 10 — 10 — cases of voter impersonation. In a nation where the bigger problem, by far, is voter apathy, it is bordering on delusional to believe large numbers of people would go to the polls pretending to be somebody else.