by Barry Rubin
It’s really interesting when I talk to Obama supporters who are soft-core, meaning they are open to discussion and not completely closed-minded or ideologically set in granite. There are several themes that constantly recur in such conversations, though one rarely or never sees these points in print.
Of course, these people get their information from the mainstream media, which protects the administration and repackages its talking points while largely censoring out critical responses and the failures or scandals. But there are also some important assumptions they are making on their own.
– A key argument is that Obama really hasn’t done that much to change anything. The subtext of this claim is that the person who believes it is only looking at legislation passed by Congress. In that category, once one goes beyond ObamaCare or the disastrous stimulus plan, this administration has gotten far less in the way of major bills through the legislature than have many of its predecessors.
Leaving aside the fact that the speaker usually doesn’t understand the full import of ObamaCare, the problem here is that most of the changes are invisible. They are the result of regulatory changes made by unelected officials and czars in a wide range of agencies, or of executive orders from the White House. Thus, it is possible to vastly understate the changes to American society made by this administration.
– Another area of change is the deep indebtedness that Obama has brought — the massive, wasteful spending, and the inability to get the country out of recession. Here, after almost a full term for Obama, the soft-core Obama supporter doesn’t blame George Bush so much as the difficult situation itself. After all, if Obama had taken over during a boom, the assumption runs, that good economy would still be going on. The implication is that the president doesn’t have too much to do with the economic state of the nation.
–Then comes a theme I hear over and over again: Obama is a centrist because he gets along with capitalists. His relationship with the head of General Electric is mentioned, as is the fact that he’s hired people from Wall Street and other such things. People say things like: to hear the right-wing talk about it, you’d think Obama is some wild-eyed Occupy Wall Street type.
There is no sense of the concept of crony capitalism. Sure the administration is happy to back specific companies if they support its policies and perhaps kick back big campaign contributions. Obama calls for class warfare and then jets off to big fundraisers with corporate fat cats. That doesn’t make him a centrist but rather someone who knows how to leverage support and intimidate opposition.
Ironically, his behavior — most notably with “green energy” — is the kind of thing that used to be called the most blatant form of corruption that would have condemned his predecessors to scorching media treatment.
– Often there is a foreign policy point. While the “Obama got Osama” theme is big generally, the point I most often hear is that Obama has done well in making America popular abroad. People are shocked when I tell them that I meet diplomats and officials from three dozen countries that are horrified by Obama’s policy. The “Europe loves Obama” theme has long since worn off as is visible in the media there. And American military officers and career officials are also horrified by what’s going on.
Going back to the “Obama got Osama” chant or talk of Predator drones in Yemen, I reply that this is precisely the problem. Yes, the administration views itself as being at war with al-Qaeda but that’s it. Almost all other Islamists are viewed as moderates who can be won over in the battle against al-Qaeda. They might be taking over countries and preaching genocide against Jews and the repression of Christians, but at least they aren’t attacking New York. This policy is destroying U.S. interests in the Middle East.
If my interlocutor is Jewish and friendly toward Israel, he will usually cite Israeli leaders saying nice things about Obama. Of course they have to say those things, I explain, and they should do so. But you should hear what they are saying about him in private. It is obvious here that Israel cannot depend on this U.S. government.
– Finally, the soft-core Obama supporter says something like this: “Well, do you think he’s any different from other Democratic presidents? Is there a discontinuity with him?
Many conservatives, like Obama supporters, would agree that he is just a typical liberal, which of course provides a good reason for liberals and Democrats to vote for him and independents to have an excuse to do so.
But this is just not true. Whatever the continuities, Obama has gone much further and with some very different assumptions. Obama’s administration is radical, not liberal, but if his critics minimize his differences it will help to assure his reelection.
– There is, however, one more point that looms underneath all of these arguments. In the spirit of the time let’s call it Conservativephobia. The soft-core Obama supporter is terrified at being thought conservative or right-wing. He will pick out certain conservative icons — often Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin — for attack and ridicule. These are almost ritualistic. To get along with his social milieu and retain social prestige he must resist the lure of the devil. Loathing on the surface conceals a real fear of being transformed into some kind of monster; a drooling, racist, xenophobic hick clinging to guns and religion.
One can only hope that in the secrecy of the ballot box this status-panic will be shed and after pulling the lever for Mitt Romney, the soft-core Obama supporter will tell everyone that he voted for the president.
Which leads me to a prediction:
If Obama wins, he will be elected by those who stayed home because they thought Romney not conservative enough.
If Obama loses, it will be because of people who voted for Romney and then lied about it.
Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.