Monday, June 8, 2009

Obama: The Parallax View

At Salon, an intriguing catalog of urban legends that have spread regarding the new president *since* his inauguration. Most are Fox news crazy riffs on actual discussions of potential policy, cathode ray incantations of an alternate reality even scarier than the ones we are currently enduring. Some are Alex Jones-style conspiratorial extrapolations, the political equivalent of outsider art. And then there are the totally unhinged Satanic visions. Some of the better ones:

Myth: Barack Obama is the Antichrist.

Who's spreading it: Get in line. If you have an idea for a "Barack Obama is the Antichrist" Web site, the URL is probably already taken (;; It's also hard to blame any particular individual for preaching the bad news about Barack Obama being the Antichrist when a Google search for "Barack Obama is the antichrist" gets you nearly 800,000 hits and just searching for "Barack Obama" and "Antichrist" together gets you 2.2 million.

What they believe: That, um, the president is Satan. Or Satan's son. Or maybe he's just the warm-up act for Satan. At the very least, he likes the devil.

The evidence? Why, Nostradamus predicted his coming. Obama bears traits resembling the Antichrist, according to former "Saturday Night Live" cast member and current Christian wactress Victoria Jackson. He sends subliminal messages to his minions and to his master, Satan. Also, Jesus' biblical prediction of the coming of the Antichrist describes him as coming as "lightning from heaven"; that translates to "baraq o bama" in Hebrew. And if Obama were not the Beast foretold in Revelation, why would the nickname for his presidential limo be -- the Beast? And, why, on the day after his election, was the winning number in the Illinois lottery 6-6-6?

What's real: The winning number in the Illinois Evening Pick 3 Lottery on Nov. 5, 2008, was 6-6-6. And his armored-plated 2009 Caddy is nicknamed the Beast. But Obama is probably not the Angel of the Bottomless Pit, the First Horseman, or the Seed of Satan. If he is, well, then we're wrong about a whole lot of other things too.

Myth: Obama is a fascist.

Who's been spreading it: Glenn Beck, but especially Jonah Goldberg. His revisionist history book, "Liberal Fascism," re-shelves European fascists as inveterate leftists and insinuates that vegetarian, organic-eating Hitler was some kind of proto-hippie.

What they believe: So you think Obama is cool? Hold on there, liberal mushhead, Mussolini was cool too. He had the worshipful crowds, the admiring world leaders, the good public transit -- the whole nine yards. Hence the insistence, in certain quarters of the right, that we keep a close eye on hipper-than-thou President Obama for hints of fascist instincts. It's the surreal, looking-glass version of "Obama is a socialist." "We've so overused the word 'socialism,'" says GOP operative Saul Anuzis. "Fascism -- everybody still thinks that's a bad thing." The government is bossing around corporations, the president is the subject of a cult of personality, and there's a bundle of rods pictured on the back of the dime called the fasces in Latin. It's all evidence that our first black president is a brownshirt. "People are once again feeling oppressed by an out of control state," wails Glenn Beck. "Like it or not, fascism is on the rise." Of the quasi-nationalization of GM, pundit Goldberg said ominously to Beck, "I'm not calling Barack Obama a Hitler and I'm not calling him Nazi and all the rest. But, you know, in fascism, we saw the people's car. We call it the Volkswagen."

What is real: Bush-era torture, surveillance and aggressive warfare do not meet the standard for fascism, but bailing out a bankrupt car company apparently does. If this is the road to fascism, the American people aren't feeling oppressed -- they're riding shotgun. Also, the fasces have been on the dime -- as well as on all the rest of our symbols -- since before the term "fascism" came into English.

Myth: Obama has created his own version of the Hitler Youth.

Who's spreading it: Radio host Alex Jones; various hard-core right-wing bloggers

What they believe: Again with Hitler! Even by the rather baroque standards of the Obama conspiracy theorists, this one's a tad wacky. It stems from a bill that Congress recently passed and Obama signed into law as the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The law allegedly contains "disturbing" language forcing young people into mandatory national service. Ratcheting up the fear, some conservatives are calling it "coercive servitude" and "statist indocrination." "At best, this reprise of Hitler Youth will nationalize charitable work, using slave labor to help the State to further marginalize Christianity, which is one of the few remaining obstacles to totalitarianism," Right Wing News seethed. "At worse, this and Obama's Serve America Act are part of his stated plan to create a race-based, Gestapo-style 'Civilian National Security Force' as large and well-funded as the military." Evidently, Obama wants to conscript 1 million young people into "youth brigades," and they'd be barred from attending church services while they were enlisted. "This has serious Nazi Germany overtones to it." In a nice twist, some bloggers are calling the alleged brigade "Obama Ujana" -- using the Swahili word for "youth."

What is real: Don't start goose-stepping yet. The legislation doesn't involve conscription, Obama Youth or anything else of the sort. It expands AmeriCorps and other existing volunteer programs, devoting $6 billion over five years to creating 175,000 new service jobs and creating new volunteer corps to deal with energy, education and healthcare. It does set up a commission to investigate whether mandatory national service would make sense for America down the line, but chances are its findings -- whatever they are -- won't exactly set the political world on fire. There's no ban on attending church services, no racial component at all, and no reason to be alarmed. Unless you're a Republican who looks at exit polls showing two-thirds of voters under 30 supported Obama.

I hadn't previously considered the apparent fact that Fox News is broadcasting large quantities of science fiction. Real-time extrapolative alternate history, tabloid Orwellians creating an even scarier variation on reality.

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