Republicans often claim that we know less about this president than any other in history. They like to pretend that somehow during the most heated primary challenge in decades, the Clinton camp simply failed to vet Barack Obama. Then the press let him dance into the White House without ever questioning a word he said.
The fact is that since Bill Clinton left office, Barack Obama is the most investigated man on the planet. And since all this hounding hasn’t resulted in one significant scandal, the right continually invents or recycles stories to feed the narrative that he is somehow un-American or unworthy of the presidency.
Ginning up scandals about President Obama isn’t just typical of the “paranoid style” in politics. It’s an industry. Glenn Beck—the most vile purveyor of accusations—lost his coveted spot on Fox News. But he moved on to a venture where he makes even more money—and blue jeans.
The most appalling part of this phenomenon is how accusing the president of the United States of fraud and treason has become standard practice for many members of the Republican Party, after eight years of dramatically asserting that challenging or even questioning the president is unpatriotic and… yes, treasonous. And there’s no figure of authority, no Edward R. Murrow, who can shock them into shame.
The right has fictionalized hundreds of scandals since Barack Obama first became a serious candidate for president. Here are 10 of the most outrageous.
1. He’s so a Muslim extremist.
Almost as soon as he announced he was a candidate for president, Fox and Friends claimed that then-Senator Obama was educated in a “madrasa.” Obama explained that he attended a Muslim school when he lived in Indonesia, before he attended a Roman Catholic school. The use of “madrasa” and the implication that he was a Muslim was obviously mean to frame the candidate as a sympathizing with Islamic terrorists. It was an easy argument to stick on a guy with “Hussein” as middle name and the argument is still being made in various ways today.
2. But he has an evil black Christian minister.
During the 2008 election, the emergence of video of Reverend Jeremiah Wright ranting about the U.S.’s role in provoking the 9/11 attacks shook up the primary and forced Senator Obama to distance himself from his friend. Republicans blasted John McCain for failing to explicitly use Wright’s words in his campaign, but Fox News and AM radio endlessly harped on Wright and his connection to the candidate endlessly. Wright so was so closely linked to Obama that the right often called him Obama’s “second father.” The reverend has mostly disappeared from the public eye, but some Republicans hoped he would become an issue in the 2012 election.
3. He “pals around” with terrorists who write his books.
You know about Bill Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground a “domestic terrorist” group that set off several bombs designed to create property damage to protest the Vietnam War. Ayers spent less than a year in prison and became a respected member of Chicago’s educational community, where he crossed paths with President Obama. During the 2008 campaign their connections become fodder for Sarah Palin’s famous “pals around with terrorists” attack. Well into 2012, Sean Hannity on Fox was spreading the entirely false rumor that Ayers had helped Obama write his books.
4. Faked his own birth certificate.
Forget that he would be a citizen even if he were born in Kenya or even Mars–his mother was a citizen, having been born and bred in Kansas. Forget that he produced his official Hawaiian birth certificate in every form that exists. Forget that millions of Republicans still believe that his birth certificate is fake. The suggestion that Obama’s entire life has been a fraud in order to commit treason on the United States is so contemptible and heinous that you can repeat it again and again and still be courted by the Republican nominee for president. Ask Donald Trump.
The birtherism fantasy was advanced by all forms of the conservative media and even when Republicans rejected it without condemning the obvious xenophobia and racism that fed the fantasy. But what was the argument being advanced here? Barack Obama is a Harry Potter-like figure whose birth immediately sparked a telegraph from Kenya to Honolulu to post a birth announcement. What’s the sense in this argument? None. It was simply a way to point out the president’s “otherness.”
5. Health care reform is reparations for slavery.
It will be difficult to explain to future generations how scary the Glenn Beck phenomenon was. In the middle of the worst financial crisis in 50 years, he went on the largest news channel in the country daily to advance theories that henceforth had not made it beyond email forwards. Beck’s animated antipathy for the president was infectious to Republicans who had just suffered the worst drubbing since 1964. It also completely contaminated the discourse. Instead of arguing the merits of the actual health care system we had, Beck focused millions on questions like: Is health care reform an attempt to pay back African-Americans for slavery? Instead of discussing why we were the only industrialized country in the world without universal health care, we were sidelined in an insane discussion of racial politics that made sense to Republicans for one reason: the new president was black.
6. Obama’s goal is to wreck the American economy.
If you haven’t seen the movie 2016: Obama’s America, here’s a spoiler: Obama’s goal is to ruin the economy so other countries in the world get a chance to lead. Based on this theory, the fact that America has had the highest corporate profits in history as a million new millionaires were created indicates that President Obama has failed at his one goal in life.
Given that economic success is basically the only metric that gets a president re-elected, the theory is so foolish that it’s hard to believe an adult produced it. But Dinesh D’Souza appears to be full grown. He was the former head of a Christian college until they found out that he was engaged to a woman who wasn’t his wife. D’Souza’s movie is the most successful conservative documentary of all time. His theories have been advanced on all of the major news networks and by one-time GOP presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich.
7. He’s really black—and angry!
Before his death in early 2012, right-wing firebrand Andrew Breitbart promised that he would give Obama the vetting he never got in 2008. His minions carried on his quest and produced two shocking videos that had been on the Internet for years. One showed the president hugging a somewhat controversial professor of his at Harvard. The other showed the president giving a speech—to black people! America still may be in shock. You’ll vet him sometime, you guys.
8. He’s dumb
What’s behind all the jokes about the president’s teleprompter? Of course it’s the suggestion that the president isn’t smart enough to speak without it—despite endless evidence otherwise. The more formalized way conservatives make this argument is by demanding the president’s transcripts from college—though he was the president of the Harvard Law Review, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago law School. Of course, the right would like to use titles of the classes to prove the president is a socialist or anti-colonialist or whatever he’s supposed to be. But the Friday before the election, the Daily Caller clarified the right’s real aim by publishing an unconfirmed rumor that the president only had a 2.6 GPA at Columbia. Unless we know that, how can we be sure what he’d do in his second term?
This was a huge Glenn Beck favorite in 2009-2010: the unelected czars! Of course, George W. Bush appointed more czars than President Obama and the word was first used to describe Richard Nixon’s energy “czar.” It was Soviet-sounding and thus was a perfectly valid way to attack the president. Just another example of a completely routine government function that that right tried to scandalize because Obama was in office.
10. FEMA Camps
In 2009, the news spread like wildfire. An executive order gave the president power to round up dissident Americans and throw them in in FEMA concentration camps. Actual aerial shots of the camps began to appear on the Internet. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) warned about re-education camps for young people. Glenn Beck claimed he couldn’t debunk the rumors—until Popular Mechanics did a little research and debunked them all. Beck had an editor on the show to explain that he’d been spreading misinformation.
But the idea that the Obama government was coming for you was still out there.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais