This election has always been a referendum on Barack Obama. For some, not on matters of substance. They can't have it both ways. It's hypocritical to distribute a vicious, false narrative about him while fancying yourself a patriot and a great American. Vilify a sitting president of the United States with fiction and innuendo, and you are neither.
I objected when George W. Bush was the subject of undeserved, hyperbolic criticism, but the baseless scorn heaped upon President Obama makes Bush's detractors look diplomatic. The president, the office, and our nation deserve better.
It's been unrelenting. The day after Obama took office, Rush Limbaugh told Sean Hannity he wanted him to "fail." Later, Glenn Beck called the president a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Donald Trump's birtherism took hold while words like socialist were uttered with increased frequency. And a prairie fire of falsehoods spread through the Internet suggesting, among other things, that Obama is a Muslim or that he refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, paving the way for Dinesh D'Souza's fictionalized "documentary" 2016: Obama's America, which characterizes Obama as fulfilling the anticolonial agenda of his father -- a man he literally knew for just one weekend!
Among the usual memes used to undermine the president is the threat of some apocalyptic cataclysm, usually in the form of an assertion of federal power, like the seizing of guns. These predictions demand unthinking acceptance of the notion that the president, like a bizarre Manchurian candidate, is saving his nefarious agenda for a second term that might never arrive. By my count, the website Snopes.com has evaluated and debunked 103 of 124 Internet assertions about Obama.
Just before Hurricane Sandy hit, Ann Coulter called our sitting president a "retard," Sarah Palin mocked his "shuck and jive shtick," and John Sununu openly questioned Gen. Colin Powell's weighty endorsement as being motivated by race. At least earlier in the campaign there was some effort at camouflage. Such as when Mitt Romney aired an anti-Obama welfare commercial that falsely suggested Obama supported handouts ("they just send you your welfare check") when, in fact, Obama was accommodating requests of several governors, two of them conservative Republicans, to try new ways to put people back to work. A similar sentiment was expressed by Romney when he maligned the 47 percent who don't pay federal income taxes, overlooking that 83 percent of that group are either working and paying payroll taxes or they're elderly.
And, almost daily, there have been dire warnings about Obama, often with sirens, from the Drudge Report. Example: the Sept. 18 edition featuring a hideous picture of Obama (eyes closed) emblazoned with the all-capped quote: "I ACTUALLY BELIEVE IN REDISTRIBUTION," a 14-year-old excerpt that conveniently excised the future president's explicit embrace of "competition" and "marketplace." No wonder I routinely field calls from radio listeners who, with no hint of embarrassment in their voices, say things such as "I call him 'comrade'" or "he's not my president."
Their best evidence? Obamacare -- crafted by the same people who wrote Romneycare. Critics ignore that the Affordable Care Act is premised upon personal responsibility and was born in a right-wing think tank. Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning website of the Tampa Bay Times, called the idea that Obamacare represents a "takeover" of the health care system the 2010 Lie of the Year. And while some have also labeled the president a "socialist" for signing the $831 billion stimulus, no one ever used such language when Bush acted similarly with the $700 billion TARP.
In the final days, the critics have turned to Benghazi, drilling down on the shifting narrative regarding the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, but ignoring that, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 22, "The CIA was consistent from Sept. 13 to Sept. 21 that the attack evolved from a protest." There's another problem with the criticism. Romney now gets intelligence briefings, too. Perhaps that's why he took a pass on this kerfuffle when Libya was the first question at the final debate.
So why the attention on the recent 9/11? Perhaps to deflect attention from Obama avenging the first 9/11. Most disturbing, the president's critics have sought to diminish that achievement by treating his order as a no-brainer. As a candidate in 2008, Obama was roundly criticized when he said (to me and others) that he would act on intelligence regarding the al Qaeda leader even if he were in Pakistan. To Bush that was "unsavory." To John McCain, that was "naive." Hillary Clinton said this was "a mistake." Joe Biden said Obama "undermined his ability to be tough." And Romney regarded that pledge as "ill-timed" and "ill-considered." Imagine the criticism Obama would have faced if the mission had failed.
The reality is that there is much to be admired in the president and his rise to power. Replace Kenya with Poland or Germany, and you'd have observers rightly saying that only in this country could such a career path be possible. He is a loving husband and father who, with the first lady, is ably raising two daughters in the glare of the White House. He is an intellectual heavyweight. And his personal ethics have been above reproach.
Real patriots vote for or against candidates based on substance, not smears.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.