From insatiable demands to produce his birth certificate to allegations that he’s a secret Muslim, it seems like Barack Obama simply can’t catch a sanity break in the lunacy of American politics. The truth is that every president and presidential candidate always faces a slew of conspiracies and half-truths on the path to election or re-election. Going beyond its numerous scandals, the Clinton administration was dogged by allegations that they just straight up killed people. George Bush was constantly accused of secretly orchestrating 9/11 and allegations of an illegitimate black child effectively sunk John McCain’s 2000 presidential run.
Regardless of a candidate’s political views, they deserve to be judged in a place scientist like to call “reality”, instead of a region several light years away known as “Political Theater”. So let’s walk through and debunk some of the most pervasive myths about the Obama administration.
The Myth: If he had been born in Kenya, he wouldn’t be a “Natural Born Citizen” and therefore couldn’t be president.
Any sane person should be thoroughly exasperated by the Obama Birth Certificate faux-scandal. It’s embarrassing, borderline racist, and distracts us from real issues, like this week’s episode of Glee. The fact remains, however, that only natural born citizens of the United States can be President. If by some elaborate farce Obama actually was born in Kenya, he couldn’t be president. It’s very explicitly stated in the Constitution.
The Truth: No one knows what the fuck “Natural Born Citizen” means
In the case Minor v. Happersett the Supreme Court basically admitted that they had no idea what this phrase meant, saying “The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens”. There are reams of Supreme Court cases regarding the minutia of what it takes to be considered an American citizen, but given that the office of the Presidency is the only one that specifies a “Natural Born Citizen” requirement, there are so few legal precedents to go on that no one is quite sure what would happen if an American born to American parents abroad tried to run for the office. Panama-born John McCain got a free pass only because in United States v. Wong Kim Ark the Supreme Court explicitly stated that a child born to American parents in US territories was considered a natural born citizen. But again, no one knows for sure because this precedent has never been tested in court with a specific relation to the Presidency.
So where does that leave this conspiracy that Obama was born in Kenya and is Muslim as All Hell? Apparently in 2009, the Congressional Research Service (colloquially known as Congresses Think Tank) got really sick of all this bickering and issued a report stating: “it appears that the most logical inferences would indicate that the phrase “Natural Born Citizen” would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship ‘at birth’ or ‘by birth’”. That is to say, even if Obama had been born in Kenya, he was still born to an American mother and therefore (based on well-established precedent) at birth he would still be considered a citizen and eligible to run for president. But then again, this has never been authoritatively settled by the Supreme Court, so maybe we can just stop arguing about it because Glee is about to start.
The Myth: The Healthcare Bill will force Americans to buy a government health insurance plan and explode the deficit.
To hear the rhetoric surrounding Obamacare, one would think this was the most expensive, job-killing, make-work, socialist program since the Works Progress Administration. Some of the more extreme critics claim that forcing citizens to buy health insurance is an unconstitutional grab for increased government power. Apparently these people have never paid a tax.
The Truth: Americans can buy whatever healthcare they choose, as long as they buy something. The jury’s still out on whether this healthcare plan will increase or decrease the deficit, but it certainly won’t cause it to balloon.
Nowhere in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are citizens forced to do anything except pay a fine if they refuse to purchase health insurance. This unfortunately sounds very much like the government forcing people to do something simply because the government thinks it’s best. But this is America damn it! The government can’t make me do anything, it’s in the Constitution… along with that part that says the government can totally force you to do things, one of which is pay your goddamn taxes, which is effectively all this mandate is.
As for blowing up the federal deficit, the Congressional Budget Office—a nonpartisan body—estimates that healthcare reform will actually reduce the deficit by 143 billion from 2010-2019. These numbers are heavily disputed, but in light of the high cost of Bush’s Pharmaceutical Plan — which came in well below their high estimates — even pessimistic numbers for the costs are hardly budget-breaking.
The Myth: He passed a wildly unpopular stimulus that gave money to banks and the wealthy.
Whether you’re a Keynesian or an Austrian economist, Democrat or Republican, poor or… uh less poor, you probably hate the stimulus bill. It’s hard to find a single person outside of Goldman Sachs who believes we should reward corporate greed and that we can spend our way out of a recession.
The Truth: The stimulus is actually very popular in its constituent parts, no money went directly to any large banks and many economists believe it was actually not big enough.
“The Stimulus” has become such a boogeyman of a word that it often obfuscates what was actually included in the bill, namely unemployment insurance extension, infrastructure projects, and oh yeah, tax cuts. Each of these provisions, when polled separately, enjoys majority support among Americans. What most people are thinking about when they say “Bank Bailout” is actually the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or “TARP”, which was recently fully repaid with interest. As for the plan’s effectiveness in fighting the recession, there is a healthy, long-running debate as to whether such stimuli are actually effective, but Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, among many others, believed the stimulus was actually far too small.
The Myth: Obama got Osama Bin Laden or Bush did all the work
To hear liberals fawn over the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden, one would think that Obama was some sort of warrior god king who personally went to Afghanistan and hip-checked Osama straight to a special part of hell. To hear conservatives sputtering response, one would think that the policies of George Bush handed Osama over on a golden platter in January 2009, and it was only Obama’s sobbing liberal sensibilities that delayed bin Laden’s death so long.
The Truth: They’re both kind of right, but it’s complicated.
As it turns out, the intelligence that ultimately led to Osama’s death came from Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM as he’s known among lazy journalists), also known as that guy we tortured the shit out of (apparently). So clearly Bush’s balls-to-the-wall Jack Bauer approach to fighting terrorism was finally vindicated, right? The truth is more complicated. KSM only volunteered useful information after we stopped torturing him. While he was being waterboarded, all he did was lie like a rug.
So clearly only after Bush’s draconian policies were reversed by Obama did anything useful happen in the hunt for Osama. Well again, the truth is more complicated than that. Despite the fact that we are the United States of F-You, we can’t really just go into any country we want and start killing people. The only reason we were able to infiltrate Pakistan (a nuclear armed country of 170 million people by the way) without sparking World War III is because of the close relationship maintained through numerous hardships by the Bush administration from 2001 until the present. And it was Bush who put General Stanley McChrystal on the path to being the commander of the forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s more restrained policies, modeled after those of General Petraeus, arguably increased support among Pakistanis for US intervention in the border regions—or at the very least allowed Pakistani officials to save more face while protecting the valuable US alliance. On the flip side though, even if all Obama did was pull the trigger on the operation, as this article details he was the one who would have suffered tremendous fallout if something had gone wrong. We can argue till we’re blue in the face about which politician is responsible, but the only person who we can unreservedly say is responsible is the Navy SEAL who pulled the trigger.
The Myth: He doesn’t believe in America/American Exceptionalism
Ever since Michelle Obama’s unfortunate quote in 2008 that she just started believing in America once Barack started winning, the Obamas have been dogged by allegations that they secretly hate America and don’t believe in American Exceptionalism (whatever that means)
The Truth: In two years, Obama has mentioned American Exceptionalism more than George Bush did in eight.
Let’s put aside for a second the weird presumption that absolute blind faith in America is a prerequisite for elected office (to be fair, America is pretty awesome). From his State of the Union, speeches in the Muslim world, and his most recent speech on Libya, one would think that Obama had the most ragingest America hard-ons in politics today. The only people who talk more about how awesome America is are the people accusing him of not talking about it enough. And far from simply saying “America, Fuck Yeah” and assuming everyone knows what he means, Obama has repeatedly laid out a careful, intelligent case for why America can fight two-and-a-half-wars, suffer the worst economic collapse in recent history, and still manage to dominate the world market while killing the world’s most infamous terrorist like it ain’t no thing.
Brian White is a freelance writer based in Chicago. He spends his free time sapping the productivity from Randian Supermen.