On the fringes of American politics, on conservative radio, and even on the campaign trail, a whole parallel Obama has emerged over the course of the 2012 race—a shadowy figure who has craftily concealed his ideological extremism and is merely awaiting his second term to unleash it. Taken as a whole, this other Obama—and what you might call his “Muahahaha strategy” of post-election bait and switch—offers a vivid picture of the fears that the president has inspired in some critics, fears that appear only to have grown during a real-life first term that has failed to produce much in the way of radical legislation.Of course, Romney is keeping plenty of secrets himself, both about his personal finances and about the cuts he’d have to make to keep his outlandish budget promises.
As fanciful as they may sound, these rumors reflect something real in the nation’s political imagination—and shine a light on the particular kind of distrust that tends to accumulate around those in power. And they’re also seeping into mainstream political discourse, even into the race itself. Mitt Romney has invoked the issue of Obama’s secret intentions, telling a group of newspaper editors recently that Obama “doesn’t want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or with the press,” and that it was up to journalists to make him come clean. “His intent is on hiding; you and I are going to have to do the seeking,” Romney said. “He wants us to reelect him so we can find out what he’ll actually do.”
Neyfakh acknowledges that there’s long been a paranoid strain in American politics, but not on this scale:
But in modern times, no presidential candidate has been accused of keeping more secret plans in his back pocket than Obama. Part of it is rooted in suspicion of his strange name and his ethnic background, of course, but it’s more than that. The speed of his ascent to national fame, his early days as a hipster in New York, even the fact that he may or may not be sneaking cigarettes outside the Oval Office, have all combined to fuel a frothy, nightmarish vision of a comic-book-style supervillain: frightening, fascinating, and very good at hiding things.As the Globe noted, people on the far right have spread and expanded upon their rumors without being able to point to much in Barack Obama’s policies to support them. For example, even after two highly publicized mass shootings by lunatics who bought extra-big ammunition clips to kill more people, the White House hasn’t campaigned for reasonable gun control. But that doesn’t stop conspiracy-minded lobbyists!
Perhaps the most widely circulated theory about Obama’s secret intentions is that he’s going to go after the rights of gun owners and eventually abolish the Second Amendment. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre has called it a “silent but sophisticated long-term conspiracy,” . . . As for the actual long-term plan that Lapierre has alluded to, [NRA spokesman Andrew] Arulanandam declined to be specific, returning instead to Obama’s existing record. “Who knows what he’s cooking up?” he said.When one has no evidence whatsoever, it’s always wise to decline to be specific. Because people in the throes of OIP Derangement Syndrome don’t need evidence. The lack of evidence is evidence enough:
But the most significant reason why there have been so many theories about Obama’s radical second-term plans may be rooted in something less intuitive: namely, that his first term, so far, has turned out to be surprisingly—that is, suspiciously—moderate. And while the president’s most ardent critics on the right may disagree, the fact is his approach to foreign policy has been downright hawkish, while his signature domestic policy achievement to date is a health care plan whose most controversial provision was originally hatched by a conservative think tank.Especially for people who find the sight of this President disquieting all by itself.
For his most vocal detractors, that can only mean one thing: He’s been deliberately prudent, so as to save up his political capital for when he no longer has to worry about reelection. The less evidence of his radicalism, in other words, the stronger the case that he is, in fact, hiding something.