As the Republican presidential nomination process gets increasingly nasty, you might start to hear complaints about one of the most time-honored traditions in politics: spinning. No, I’m not talking about what you do when you hit the gym — although you might say Rick Santorum is exhausting himself pedaling on a stationary bike. In politics, spinning is the art of cherry-picking facts and carefully phrasing ideas for maximum political gain.
When debating among themselves, Republicans usually spin a lot about each other. However, when talking about President Barack Obama, they move to another tactic that’s even slimier than spinning, which at least includes some factual basis. The technical term for it is making stuff up. The goal in making stuff up is to scare voters from Obama.
Now is where the bogeyman comes in.
Remember when you were a little kid and your parents told you that if you didn’t behave yourself, a monster or evil creature would deal with you? That scary imaginary thing is called a bogeyman. Bogeymen are created by parents to scare their children into doing particular things they don’t want to do such as cleaning their room or eating vegetables.
The particular thing Republicans want is support for GOP candidates. But since spinning Obama’s record has not been enough for the electoral changes they want, the Republicans have started making stuff up to create the Obama Bogeyman. Bogeymen don’t actually exist, but they can be quite effective if forced into the public conscience. Let’s investigate the Obama Bogeyman using gun control as an example.
One trait that all effective bogeymen share is the ability to strike fear in the hearts of people, and very few things are closer to the hearts of conservative voters than their guns. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has exploited conservative voters’ fears of Obama coming for their guns, saying at an National Rifle Association meeting that “the Obama administration is the most consistently anti-gun administration and anti-Second Amendment administration that we have ever seen.”
Except Obama hasn’t been anti-gun at all. Even in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting last year, when he could have — at the very least — done something about extended ammunition clips, he didn’t act. And that’s when momentum for gun control during his presidency was probably highest.
Another sign of the lack of legislated gun restrictions is the F grade Obama received from the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence in 2010. Shouldn’t an F from the Brady Campaign translate to an A from the Republicans?
Some conservatives actually admit that Obama hasn’t done anything to restrict gun usage. But Obama still can’t win even when that happens because, like any good bogeyman, he’s going to eventually get you. Last year, National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre said Obama’s lack of gun regulations is “part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment,” according to NRA reports. Can Obama win on this issue if that’s how the gun-toting, conservative voting bloc thinks?
Another issue that fires up conservatives is tax policy. To the GOP, high taxes are never good. Now check out these statistics: When President Ronald Reagan tried to bring the economy out of recession in 1983, tax revenues were 17.5 percent of GDP. In the Obama recovery, tax revenues are 14.9 percent of GDP. Furthermore, Obama extended the massive Bush tax cuts in 2010 when they were about to expire — look, it even has the name Bush in there!
But reality doesn’t matter for GOP talking points or for bogeymen. As long as the Republicans can scare people off with the Obama Bogeyman, whether or not he is actually raising taxes is immaterial to them. The same principle applies to his environmental or foreign policies, and even his religion and birthplace.
My analyses here are to say nothing about whether I support Obama’s actions on these issues. Personally, I’d like to see him move more aggressively on gun control and raise taxes on the wealthiest among us. The point is that, in November, the Republican presidential candidate won’t have to compete with President Obama. The nominee will instead run against the fact-free, imaginary Obama Bogeyman created by the GOP, making the candidate’s job a little easier. Makes me wish for the days of old-fashioned spinning.
Dar-Wei Chen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DWChen_MDaily.