I just saw this bumper sticker in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s. As you probably know, I have major problems with the “What Do You Think of Obama Now?” bumper stickers. This one is even worse. It goes right to heart of what it means to be the loyal opposition. The conservative movement has long been the disloyal opposition. This is what allows them to think it is right and fitting to block every Obama initiative, not because they disagree with it, but because it comes from Obama. It is also what allowed Obama to endure over four years of claims that he was not a legitimate president because he wasn’t born in the United States. We didn’t hear such hysterics from Democrats about Bush who was actually illegitimate (but only in the sense that he didn’t get the most votes in the country or the state of Florida).
What is the bumper sticker saying? It claims that Obama is a liar. I’m sure that is technically true. But is it more true of him than any other president? I certainly don’t see that. In fact, one of my complaints about Obama is that he is too straightforward. He is not wily. He thinks that the best way to negotiate is to come right out with your best offer. Deceptiveness is just not what is wrong with our current president.
And what exactly is Obama lying about? At first, I thought the sticker was a reference to all the recent real and pretend scandals. But that isn’t it at all. Seth Colter Walls reported seeing such a sign at a McCain rally back in October 2008. And it not only dates back further, it is an evolution of “Bush bin Lyin'” signs as far back as 2004. However, those signs were never popular because, they make no sense. At least “Obama bin Lyin'” scans.
What is most ridiculous, of course, is that Obama killed Osama bin Laden. But I’m sure the point is always just to characterize Obama as the worst enemy of our country. (As though bin Laden was ever even that!) This is not limited to the right. We on the left do it too. But there is a difference. As stupid as “Bush bin Lyin'” is (and it was normally “Bush Bin Lyin” which makes the joke even harder to understand), at least it went along with the narrative that Bush lied us into war. There were no “Bush bin Lyin'” signs even as early as 2003. So the etymology was: (1) Bush lied; (2) “Bush lied” signs. With Obama it is just: (1) “Obama lied” signs. What did Obama lie about? Oh, take your pick! He’s Emmanuel Goldstein: evil, dirty, dishonest. They’ll fill in the details as necessary.
I find these kinds of attacks on Obama most frustrating. There are very real problems with Obama. But with very few exceptions (e.g. Josh Barro, Ramesh Ponnuru), the only people who are acting as the loyal opposition are those of us on the left. What we now have is a political system with one traditional party: the Democrats. And then we have one reactionary party: the Republicans who don’t so much stand for anything but against whatever the Democrats do. That’s not a stable system. And it is particularly bad for the Democratic Party. If we continue this way, we will end up with two parties who only believe that they ought to be in power.
My general belief is that we have reached this state because of the Democrats. By co-opting more and more Republican positions, the Democrats have pushed the Republicans to the extreme right where they are stuck. But we will leave that for another day. The fact remains that the Democrats do still stand for something: what the Republicans used to stand for. The Republicans don’t really stand for anything. I think even they realize what a disaster it would be if they got their way at this point: the conservative alternative to conservative policy? Ouch!