Voice of America?
The cover of the September 28 New York magazine has a picture of President Obama’s face overlaid with the suddenly common currency of our “national debate”: Parasite-in-Chief. Hitler. Liar. Impostor. Stalin. Nazi. Socialist. Muslim. Kenya-born.
That these labels are incoherent is clearly not what matters. That they are untrue means even less. The president’s Christianity is no match for the power of his imaginary Muslim doppelgänger. What the healthcare bill actually says is much less exciting than the fantasy of Grandma’s last gurgle as she is tossed into the tumbrel. Official documentation of Obama’s citizenship and place of birth means nothing to those who apparently need to have seen it before they’ll believe it. (As one commentator on the Drudge Report wrote in a parody of birthers: “We also demand a mason jar filled with the actual afterbirth, a copy of the birth filmed in HD, satellite imagery of the hospital, a record of the comings and goings of both parents from the moment of conception to birth, and a sworn statement from G-d. Is that really too much to ask for?”) That the president pursues solidly centrist economic policies is of no import to those who entertain themselves scribbling little mustaches on his portraits.
It is clear that common notions of reality are not what motivate or inform the rabidly hateful calls for revolt that have overtaken our national discourse. By no measure of the real world is Obama evil or a mass murderer or an “alien” or even just a socialist. As Barney Frank put it–on what planet do these people spend most of their time?
The answer to that, of course, means taking a serious look at the narrative worlds created by Fox News and AM radio, where Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are the reigning kings. This is a world in which the president is not really American. The presidency has been stolen. The president does not believe in a Christian God. He takes his orders from a cave in Afghanistan. He wants to take away your guns, impoverish your children and kill your elders. If this balloon of fear were not bad enough, it’s supplemented by repeated calls to “retake” America, to “regain” a golden past, to “revolt” against the kleptocracy.
This is not the kind of speech that can be shrugged off by calling for “more speech.” And no, I am not suggesting censorship. But I do think we need to take the growing power of this fear-fueled, alternative, imaginary universe more seriously. It has consequences for the physical world in which our real bodies reside. If one really believes that Obama is the Antichrist, then one goes out and starts arming oneself; and violence directed against those perceived as less than all-American begins to be justified as “pre-emptive” self-defense.