Obama Derangement Syndrome

October 18th, 2009

A conservative cartoon, Day By Day, encapsulates it fairly well. Hard to tell if the cartoonist actually believes this or not, but it’s clear that many people do–he’s putting in his panels what so many are ranting and tearing their hair out about all the time now. One can imagine the cartoonist either believes it all, or that he believes some but wanted to push it and so included some ideas that he may not agree with.

But that’s not the point. The point is that the list he comes up with is a real one, made up of actual claims, complaints, grievances, and conspiracy theories from the right wing. The thing of it is, this list is not even the craziest one out there–it is actually fairly reined in, relatively mild. The examples listed in the cartoon below don’t go as far as Bachmann’s FEMA-built concentration camps; it stays just barely on the “reasonable” side of the paranoid rantings on the right. Looking at the list, it’s so familiar in its content, but at the same time, makes you ask the question, “which planet do these people live on?”

Screen Shot 2009-10-18 At 10.10.12 Am

The first utterance very nicely frames something that conservatives have been all over lately, but which is ultimately very puzzling: the implication that nothing really happened under Bush, but now, under Obama, stuff is actually happening. Like most of the stuff in the panels above, it’s not just the cartoon making stuff up, this is what’s really out there. Conservatives express strong fears of the Constitution being torn to shreds now–as if Bush’s term in office didn’t do massive damage to our rights but somehow Obama has taken a flamethrower to the document. As if Bush did not do everything he could to fully negate the Fourth Amendment, making the case that the government had the right to spy on Americans without a warrant (and actually doing it). As if he did not violate the Fifth through Eighth Amendments by jailing people without access to an attorney, without informing them of charges, without allowing a trial, and by legitimizing torture. These were as real as you can get, and set government policy that generates precedents that could actually weaken the Constitution. The irony is, what they see Obama is doing to violate the Constitution is imaginary–paranoid hyperbole loosely based upon harmless facts, like the Medicare provision for end-of-life counseling combined with decade-old writings by one advisor being seen as adding up to insidious “Death Panels.”

What else on the list? The “racist” supreme court justice: Sotomayor is supposedly a racist because she said that a “wise Latina woman” would have better judgment than a white man. As spelled out here, the quote was taken fully out of context: Sotomayor said that in sexual discrimination cases, a wise Latina woman would have a better understanding of the nature of the offense and therefore could be a better judge on the issue–not racist at all.

Economy-busting stimulus bills: This is another fascinating example of Bush-Blindness-Obama-Hyperbole; Bush dug us into debt to an unimaginable degree, but these people had no problem with it–when asked, they usually reverted to the idea that “debt is good,” that it allows us to control the economy. Bush gave away more than the stimulus cost to pay off the banks, and though conservatives didn’t like it, they barely seem to remember it now. Obama spends a relative pittance to Bush’s total giveaway over the years, Obama working to actually revive the economy, to create jobs–and it’s actually working–and suddenly he’s spending too much. See here for a good rundown of the difference between Obama’s and Bush’s debt creation–you can see that Obama’s well-spent, effective stimulus cost less than any one of several Bush boondoggles.

Nationalization of Banking, Insurance, Auto, and Health Care: Uh huh. Obama controls the banks now. And he runs the auto industry. Riiiighhht. This is fascinating as well, in that it takes the idea of bailouts–which Bush initiated half the time–which have a few, minor, very weak strings attached–and transforms them into complete takeovers of the entire institutions. It’s like saying that I run Apple now because I made a minor stock purchase. But this is an excellent example of what the far right has been doing: take a kernel of truth, inflate it a thousand times and more, then start getting paranoid about it.

Unaccountable Czars: Bush had more, but no one complained then–not even liberals. A “czar” is nothing more than a task manager on a specific issue; they have no dictatorial power beyond what the respective agencies or the president himself wields. The term was crafted long ago as a political way of saying “we’re on the problem.” As for the “Diktats” on what we can “eat, buy, earn, or say”? How do you respond to stuff like that? I repeat, I know this is a cartoon, but as I noted above, this is virtually straight from the mouths of so many conservatives today–they really do believe this.

A “White House that openly posts anti-semitic rants”: I have to give up on this one, I could not determine its source. Seems like others on the web are scratching their heads here as well. Closest I could come were mentions of Van Jones, but I could not track down the explanations.

Embracing Islamic Terrorists: one can only imagine. His Cairo speech? His initial steps in the Middle East peace process? His willingness to speak to foreign leaders? Obama reading Fareed Zakaria’s book? Who knows, it seems that anything Obama does which in any way can be connected to the Middle East is invariably seen as “embracing Islamic terrorists.”

“A Cipher for President”: the old “Obama as Mystery Man” cliché. This is part of a long-standing smear on Obama from back during the election, saying that we “don’t know” anything about who he “really” is–nothing more than a completely unsupported attack intended to frighten people away from voting for him. The man’s life is just as open, if not more open than anyone other president’s in recent history (unless anyone can tell me in detail about Bush’s years of alcoholism and drug use in detail). The man wrote an autobiography and a tome outlining his political philosophy, for crying out loud.

Obama’s “mentors”: a “Child Rapist”: again, I had to look this one up. Turns out he’s talking about Frank Marshall Davis, a journalist, poet and political and labor movement activist who was targeted during the McCarthy era. Like so many conservative conspiracy theories, this one is based upon a string of suppositions transposed over an exaggerated relationship. Davis probably wrote a book under a pseudonym in which the author wrote that the experiences described were supposedly based upon actual fact–something never determined to be true (Michael Crichton includes the same claim in many of his purely fictional novels)–and in the book spoke of a three-way romantic relationship between the author, his wife, and a 13-year-old girl. Conservative conspiracy nuts then connect this to Obama because in the book Dreams From My Father, Obama mentioned “Uncle Frank” as being a friend of his grandfather’s. Not a word about him being a mentor or even an influence of any sort, just kind reminiscences of a figure from his childhood. From this we get a “child rapist mentor.” At least Muir did not go so far as to chime in on the wingnut claim that Davis was actually Obama’s father.

The “Domestic Terrorist” is of course, Bill Ayers. Of course, it has long been established that Obama’s connection to Ayers (whose ‘terrorist’ status is just as challenged but let’s just let that lie for now) is tenuous at best–Ayers contributed $200 to Obama state senate re-election bid, they lived in the same neighborhood, served on a board together, and that’s just about it. Having fleeting contacts and possible scattered meetings means nothing, let alone “mentor” status. A good, thorough debunking of the web of fiction surrounding this is here as well as at FactCheck.org.

A Racist Minister: this is as close to the truth as the rant gets. Obama did admire Jeremiah Wright, and Wright was his minister for several years, and he did say objectionable things. “Mentor” is a different issue, as is the insinuation that Obama agreed with everything the man said.

Assorted Communists: again, one can only imagine. So general it could refer to any number of imagined paranoid rantings.

Uses government to attack private citizens: go fish, I have no idea on this one. Again, too general to track down.

Union thugs to stifle free speech: this comes from a scuffle at a town hall meeting that tea-baggers were trying to overrun. The event, for Democratic Representative Kathy Castor, was at least in part sponsored by local unions, ergo the “union thugs” charge. The venue had a maximum capacity of 250 seats, but more than 1000–mostly protesters bused in from outside the district–tried to get in. When the door minders had to stop admitting people and intended to close the doors in keeping with fire regulations, the tea-baggers, assuming they were being unfairly kept out, started screaming, shoving, and a few got into minor scuffles with the door minders. After the doors were closed, they continued to shout and bang on the doors. As you can see in this Youtube video of the event (different angle here), the tea-baggers were the loud, rowdy, and pushy ones. One guy, named Randy Arthur (you can see him near the doors in the video), later claimed that he was slammed against a wall, and had scratches on his chest. (The video seems to show that after the room’s capacity was filled, he tried to shove his way in, but had to be restrained by a door minder.) There was zero verification that union people were minding the doors, that Arthur was not himself an aggressor trying to get in after the hall had been filled to capacity, or that any of this was to “stifle free speech.” Closing an event due to fire laws is not stifling free speech, and plenty of tea-baggers got in. But, as you can imagine, the right wing blew this event way out of proportion, claimed Obama was using union thugs to beat up protesters, and here we are.

ACORN felons manufacturing votes: It started with McCain/Palin accusations about stealing votes, but as FactCheck.org points out, there were only scattered cases of a few hired workers trying to get paid for no work by falsifying registration forms. None of these led to actual false votes, none were perpetrated by ACORN itself. This kind of false-registration scam by workers is endemic to voter registration organizations of all stripes. Since then, ACORN has become the favorite punching bag of the right wing, which has both stirred up a wide variety of false rumors and smears, and has tried to infiltrate/expose with questionable results. Mostly, opposition to ACORN is fueled by the fact that it is legally registering large numbers of low-income voters who will more often than not vote Democratic, and by the longstanding campaign by the right wing to claim massive voter fraud is being perpetrated, so that the Republicans can institute new voter laws which would disenfranchise large numbers of Democratic voters.

FCC throttling free speech: This apparently comes from the fact that Mark Lloyd, the “chief diversity officer” at the FCC, wrote an opinion a few years before being assigned to his post saying that since talk radio is strongly tilted toward conservatism, that some policies could be adopted to address the imbalance. Whatever Lloyd’s claims actually were (to get the full story I would have to find, read, and analyze the original work, something I don’t have time for), there is nonetheless no evidence that such policies are actually being enacted by the FCC. This is a common right-wing tactic: find everything ever written by everyone even tangentially connected to the Obama administration, find something written years ago as a theoretical suggestion that could then be distorted and presented as a crazed, wild-eyed conspiracy, and then claim that since this person is now in some official position, that means that the years-old musing is now an official policy forwarded by Obama himself. This was half of the genesis for the “Death Panel” claim.

Illegal monies from overseas to establish itself: I think this refers to the claims that some Obama campaign contributions came from overseas, in particular Arab countries. Add it to the pile.

A news media so biased: Well, this is too easy. The news media is biased–very strongly biased–but demonstrably, very demonstrably, to the right, not to the left. But the right wing’s pipe dream fantasy has it being a left-wing cabal infiltrating all but Fox News, which, of course, is fair and balanced.

The culture steeped in anti-Americanism: essentially, anything and everything that does not fit the right-wing standard of approving of or defending most of what Bush and Cheney did, or a completely pro-Christian agenda, or a pro-ultra-right-wing agenda, so forth and so on. Under their standards, trying to get the Olympics for Chicago in 2016 was “anti-American.” Really, almost anything Obama or the Democrats do is ultimately represented as “anti-American.”

Illegal aliens bribed with amnesty to vote Democratic: does he mean the mass amnesty that Reagan gave in the 80’s to bribe them to vote Republican? Or the amnesty Bush 43 was trying to get for many years?

And finally: 47% of Americans pay no taxes and live off of those who do produce. The figure comes from the Tax Policy Center, which claims that in 2009, 47% of households will owe no federal income tax–not exactly the same as 47% of Americans paying no taxes at all, but let’s ignore that for the moment. The insinuation is that we’re talking about half of America (presumably the liberal half) somehow evading taxes and instead leeching off of the (presumably Republican) half who actually produce stuff–another common right-wing fantasy.

What the figures actually mean are that the incomes earned by enough hard-working Americans have dropped so low in the past eight years under Bush that the number who fall below the minimum tax brackets and exemptions has increased dramatically–this number is reportedly almost 60% higher than it was in 2000. Too many Americans work multiple jobs for too little pay, with too few benefits. The minimum wage is a sick joke. To say that they are leeching off the productive ones while rich bankers use taxpayer billions granted by Bush to give themselves huge bonuses for failing under conservative fiscal policies… well, you get the idea.

This is not a conspiracy by lazy liberals to mooch off of productive responsible conservatives, it’s the dying gasp of America’s middle class, falling into poverty because of the economy that conservatives champion. It’s no secret that Democrats are the ones who preside over economies where all groups do well and more people pay taxes, whereas in Republican administrations, the gap between rich and poor widens and so many fall into poverty.

Okay. Once again, the cartoon is not real. But the claims that the cartoon lists are all too real in terms of these being the relatively more level-headed claims of the conservative half of America. These beliefs by so many on the right have nothing to do with reason, facts, or evidence, but instead are virtually all conspiracy theories based on rumors and lies.

Such ideas have always existed. But they have never been expressed so vehemently, in such volume, with such distortion and separation from reality, and believed by so many people in so short a time as they are now.

The whole ‘controversy’ about how the comic ends with the ‘liberal’ character joking about the knife somehow being a veiled assassination threat is bogus; that’s a far stretch, at best. What is important here is the concise and succinct showcase of Obama Derangement Syndrome in one of its more mild forms.

  1. Troy
    October 18th, 2009 at 14:42 | #1

    The DBD guy is the real conservative deal and these are the real conservative agitprop talking points.

    The funny thing about the income tax thing is that it’s really a boon to rental property owners in disguise since most people who are “lucky” enough not to pay any income tax also [have to] rent, and AFAICT damn near every dollar paid in tax is one less dollar going to the landlord, so lower taxes mainly results in higher rents. fwiw, the Physiocrats of the 18th century were the first to analyze this fiscal phenomenon.

    I want to get back to Japan to get away from these loons. Like I’ve said here before, I don’t understand why you spend so much time & energy quasi-engaging with this insanity.

    Reading that your forebears were driven out by the Phalangists, however, does explain some of your ideological commitment to fighting the good fight.

    Me, I just want a nice house in Musashi Itsukaichi or Kashiwa and 12hrs a day to bang code. The political BS is just getting to be too much, and it’s going to get worse and not better. I see in the news that Finland is making high speed internet a basic human right; this is fully in parallel with my basic views that everyone has a right of access to that which is required to become and remain a productive member of society, without regard to ability to pay. But here in the States this viewpoint is far, far left and outnumbered in numbers by the nutjob right and most definitely outweighed in the public marketplace of ideas at least 100:1 in terms of spending footprint (mebbe one thinktank vs. the vast array of policy institutes of the Manhattan, Heritage, Cato, AEI, etc etc).

    2012 is going to be a pivotal year and I’d be a lot happier being far, far away. I bugged out to Japan back in Aug 1992, missing the election BS entirely. Need to do that again.

  2. Luis
    October 18th, 2009 at 15:13 | #2


    Thanks for the update on DBD. I actually read it for a while a bit back, when he wasn’t so engrossed with politics. There were still various political jabs and stuff, but it wasn’t nearly as thickly applied as it is now. But even back then, I eventually got tired of the guy’s talking points and moved on. Still, I didn’t want to jump to conclusions about his actual beliefs–for all I knew, he was middle-of-the-road and I just happened to see him portraying a character in a mode he might not personally agree with. So, not surprising that he’s really behind those beliefs, at least insofar as his cartooning is involved.

    As for sticking to this message, for me it’s partly cathartic–this stiff ticks me off something fierce and the blog is an outlet for that–and partly it’s to add to the overall web-o-sphere gestalt in the hopes that enough voices will eventually be heard. Can’t hurt. Truth be told, I am just not as deeply involved in Japanese culture and politics as I perhaps should be at the present time–work and study make that a bit difficult, and I am at that difficult language point where I can get along but would find it painfully difficult to jump in to a pure Japanese-language environment. Someday…

    As for Internet stuff, it actually seems like anywhere but the US is the best place to be. My dad lives just outside Silicon Valley (a few blocks from Stanford University) and still pays more than I pay for his ISP, despite getting about 1/20th the bandwidth. While Obama is doing well to push for Net Neutrality, the fact that so many on the right are pushing for the Telecoms to own and overcharge for the Internet is depressing–and makes me very grateful that the Dems at least had enough backbone to resist the GOP’s attempts to do away with NN while they still had power. Still, the US to this day–AFAICT–does not have a coherent broadband policy like Japan’s e-Japan policy did in bringing us to where we are today.

    I hold now as I always did: the Internet is a powerful, subversive tool for free and more equal speech. For the first time in human history, anyone can publish whatever they want to potentially a worldwide audience without having to first gain approval from a wealthy media owner. While this amounts to having a single voice in a massive crowd, that is what freedom of speech for everyone means. Yes, there’s tons of BS out there–but that’s always true. The Internet allows for a better signal-to-noise ratio, especially at a time when the media is more and more controlled by just a few people. And (in theory at least) I can have as great a voice, if my message is crafted well enough, as anyone with money. Money still gives a great advantage, but not nearly as much as it did before. Had the GOP successfully knocked down NN, that advantage would have been struck down as well.

  3. Troy
    October 18th, 2009 at 17:44 | #3


    and I am at that difficult language point where I can get along but would find it painfully difficult to jump in to a pure Japanese-language environment

    I started studying Japanese exactly 20 years ago now but just this month I actually had reason to seriously wade into a full Japanese-only discussion (about Princess Princess on 2ch fwiw). Having lived in Tokyo for the 90s I’d filled out Japanese tax forms, been sent on week-long 出張s to Nagoya etc etc but I was shocked at all the subtleties of modern conversational Japanese I still have to learn.

    So anyway, yesterday in the effort to practice teh nihongo I post http://anchorage.2ch.net/test/read.cgi/musicjf/1234358241/743 and some 2ch cockknob responds with “日本語でお願いします”.

  4. Tim Kane
    October 18th, 2009 at 21:50 | #4

    I sympathize with Troy’s view.

    The American melt down is frightening to behold.

    I don’t understand how Bush could implement policies that were obviously antithetical to sound civics, then the world predictably come dangerously close to total economic meltdown and people not be able to put two and two together. The denial is of a magnitude that is earth shaking.

    I recently read somewhere: Republicans/conservatives consist of the very rich or the very ignorant.

    The question I have, is what is this person’s (who wrote that cartoon) motives?

    What he says is presumably wingnut talking points that have been programmed into their minds as ersatz facts. Why propogate such distortions?

    What’s his motive? Why can’t he except the out come of the democratic process? Was he ever able to? What happened to change that? Why propagate obvious distortions as facts? Why? The fact that he can’t propagate truths ought to be a sign to himself that he’s off the reservation of sanity.

    Presumably only 20% of the population falls into this mindset. The disturbing thing is that it gets lots of air play. It doesn’t help that Obama chose not to handle them the way FDR did. Apparently Obama is counting on a passive aggressive strategy in hopes that the Republicans overreach.

    But over all, I think the tide is running out on these morons.

    As I stated earlier, Democrats with spine are starting to emerge (see Grayson) and some with amazingly sophisticated skills (Franken) able to graphically maneuver the Republicans into utterly unexplanable, appalling, and humiliating positions that most people just can’t stand.

    And the thing is, Grayson is getting massive contributions from all over the company to his campaign coffers. Grayson is an interesting case. He’s from a swing district. He can be voted out. He’s taken the position that that’s fine. I’m giving the electorate a choice – the choice of a real Democrat versus whatever the Republicans throw out there. And he’s not suffering at all for having done it, at least from the standpoint of financing his next election.

    Grayson is not as good at it as Franken, and he better be careful or he’ll over due it and get hit by the old whiplash effect.

    So what I think will happen is that the likes of Franken and Grayson, both rookies, will set an example that will attract others to follow. This will then pick up steam and perhaps the next thing you know, being called a conservative or a Republican will be a perjorative simile for moron, idiot, immoral, corrupt, banal, etc…

  5. Tim Kane
    October 18th, 2009 at 21:51 | #5


    Would like to know the story of your families exodus from Spain. Would be an interesting tale.

  6. Ken
    October 19th, 2009 at 01:30 | #6

    “A Cipher for President”: the old “Obama as Mystery Man” cliché?

    In fact, Obama was well-know in Chicago urban areas for his honesty, his integrity, his vision, his negotiation skills, and ability to work with nearly anyone involved in the community. He has an admirable ability to listen with objectivity, understand all sides of an issue, and try and make the best compromise so that everyone gets something they want.

    Second, he is probably best known for his career as a Harvard Law Professor. (How many Harvard Law courses did W teach during his pre-political days? I’m sure it was on his to-do list…).

    The reason Obama remained “mysterious” in the political world for so long, is that he does not come from a big family “brand name” like Bush, using his father’s reputation/connections to build his own political base. Obama got where is is on his own merit, and that requires tons of hard work and integrity that W can only dream of!

    In short, those who claim Obama is an “unknown” do so because they are NOT Harvard Law students, NOT part of the Chicago disenfranchised community, and are NOT interested in looking at all side of an issue to make the best choice. They lack the capacity to understand the value of such a well-educated, honest and conciliatory man as president.

  7. Troy
    October 19th, 2009 at 03:11 | #7


    he is probably best known for his career as a Harvard Law Professor

    University of Chicago, actually, and I don’t think he was there long enough to form any reputation.

    The analysis of these attacks on Obama need not be complex. As a leftist, I know where my opposition stands, and why. They believe the Reagan and Thatcher BS that people should be left to their own devices and not receive government assistance in this world, since government at the end of the day is the antithesis of freedom (if you don’t like the government of your area you’re screwed (at least until the next election), while in a pure market economy one is theoretically free to take one’s money to another service provider).

    The right-left divide is nothing new. Federalists and Democratic-Republicans were having knock-down fights on the role of the Federal government in the economy over 200 years ago. (hint: Hamilton won).

    Over 100 years ago, Senator Schurz responded to the boneheaded conservatives of his day with words to the effect: “Not just ‘my country, right or wrong’ — that’s retarded and non-sustainable — but my country, when right to be kept right and when wrong to be put right”.

    The core of the conservative mindset, to use the word loosely, is the last rant of the panel. Tens of millions of Americans being relatively poor, while millions of Americans are unimaginably wealthy, is not a bug but a feature.

    Also underlying the Republican/Conservative/Christianist opposition is the fear of atheist, islamicist, underprivileged minorities and organized labor regaining any power in the national system.

    But it would be unfair to the Conservatives to say that this opposition is entirely irrational in character. The LA riots exposed a very undesirable element of incivility present in this nation, and my least favorite part of living in the US has to be the career criminal element, a problem that neither viewpoint has a handle on how to solve. I don’t personally fear the islamicists but I find them more assholish than fundamentalist Christians, which is a hard act to top.

  8. Ken
    October 21st, 2009 at 02:15 | #8

    @ Tim Kane

    Thanks, Tim. I stand corrected.
    Obama is a Harvard Law graduate (not a professor) and later taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.

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