Socialist. Muslim. Non-citizen. America hater. Food stamp president. Job killer. The list goes on and on. Most of the hate launched President Obama’s way has only a feint connection to the truth. The unsubstantiated charges that Obama has destroyed the economy are in the category of less than half-truths. What I find interesting about the conservative condemnation of Obama’s handling of the economy is that they suggest a possible Obama impact on the economy that belies the conservative world view of how the economy works.
Adam Smith coined the term “Invisible Hand” to describe the anarchic, unplanned motion and effects of countless individual traders making countless buying and selling decisions. The market economy is, as a result, not the product of any willful act on the part of any individual, institution, or political official. Smith saw the economy as a natural environment where the selfish interests of its inhabitants produces social good. If Obama is responsible for destroying the economy, as Republicans claim, he must have the ability to control a natural process. That is a God like awesome ability.
It’s true that many Republicans charge that Obama’s tax policies, regulations, and spending have “shackled the economy.” Obama has apparently, according to this view, only handcuffed the “invisible hand” of the market. This is fair enough. Adam Smith basically worried about the same thing. But there is one big problem. Obama has only been in office for two and a half years and Republicans have been making this claim all throughout his presidency. Indeed, it takes a very powerful president to move Congress, avoid Court rejections, fund and make policies designed to destroy the economy in such a short time. The public and Wall Street, however, don’t seem to believe that Obama is a modern Leviathan.
Most public opinion polls show that the American people still blame Bush more than they do Obama for the poor performance of the present economy. They see Obama economic policies as different from and better than that of Bush. And if campaign contributions are any indication of preference and support, Obama is beating all the Republican presidential candidates. He has raised more contributions than all the other Republican candidates combined ($46.3 to $36.5 billion). Obama’s closest competitor is Mitt Romney at $18.5 billion. Moreover, Obama has raised money from all parts of the country, all demographic groups, a larger share from the under $200 category, as well as substantial amounts from very rich Hollywood and Wall Street moguls. Campaign support does not always translate into electoral victory. But it is an indication of the political preferences of one sector of the public.
Republicans have not paid attention to either what the public thinks or what many business people want. They insist on placing blame only on Obama for the current mess in the economy. While that is a crafty political strategy, it has logical problems. Even if we put aside such facts as that Obama did not start two unnecessary and expensive wars, start the auto and wall street bailouts, or give tax reductions to the rich, the claims that Obama has wrecked the economy in such a short time reeks of bombast and delusion. One good example is the conservative TownHall Magazine worry that “President Obama’s attempt at caring for our health may be sickening, and even endangering, the American work ethic.” Apparently TownHall thinks that we will decide to work less once we start to receive health benefits under Obamacare! If true, I’m sure Americans who have had to work more than one job to pay their bills will welcome the opportunity for a more normal life. But what exactly does this kind of exaggerated complaint and fear in the conservative camp mean?
Is Obama so powerful that he can insert his “socialist” ideas inside the minds and souls of the American people? Can he take on the entire political system to bend it his way? Is Obama more powerful than a locomotive? Despite the fact that conservatives claim that Obama is “soft” on defense as well as incompetent as an economic policy maker, they also imply that Obama is super powerful and capable of, or has already, turned this country upside down and inside out. I think the conservative fear is that Obama has once again reclaimed the idea that our government should and can help us live a better life.
Obama threatens to upend the conservative ideal of a people who cherish no other authority higher than God. Health insurance policies (especially the single payer system), government regulations, and taxation undermine the natural and moral process wherein individuals pursue a “natural” self-interest in the savanna of the marketplace. Far from just handcuffing the economy, Obama’s policies, conservatives believe, will make government achieve as much or more authority and power as God. That fear of diminishing God’s authority is also why conservatives are so adamantly against Gay marriage, abortion, global warming, and the separation of church and state. Ironically, social conservatives believe individuals make too many choices. They are also afraid of the possibility that man is or can reshape himself and the environment. For conservatives, it is God, not man, who decides what happens in this world and God does not make mistakes (i.e. gay people or global warming)
Republicans and conservatives, thus, imply that Obama is a Superman, in part, because they have political reasons to lay all the problems of the economy at his feet rather than on Bush. But they also imply that Obama is a Superman for another even more important reason. They think he will elevate the role and purpose of government in our economy, our society, and our lives. He will erode the hard-won conservative victories of the last 25 to 30 years that has reaffirmed the glory and power of God in American society. Strangely, the conservative portrait of Obama as someone who wants and is reversing conservative core values, has the unintended consequence of elevating Obama to a godlike status. Their insistence that Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, and a non-citizen may marginalize and racialize Obama for many of their constituents, but it also empowers him. Only an alien, if not a devil, they think, would undo God’s work and supplant His authority. But it is also true that Superman came from Krypton. Didn’t he?