Jon Stewart at The Daily Show, among many others, has visited the recurring theme of the obvious disconnect between what the Republicans say President Obama is doing and saying, and what he is actually doing and saying. It makes Republicans' job so much easier if they can just put words in Obama's mouth and ignore what he has actually said and done during his time in office. The GOP lacks a compelling and convincing argument about why Mitt Romney must be the next president of the United States, and also an overwhelming desire in the electorate to throw the incumbent out. The Republicans realize their best strategy is not to fight on the battlefield that exists, but rather to take the fight to Imaginary America.
And to that theme, is there any better symbol of the 2012 election than Imaginary Obama making an imaginary appearance at the Republican National Convention to have an imaginary debate with Clint Eastwood, a man who creates imaginative fiction for a living? On display for all of the country to see was the (non)-embodiment of the Imaginary President that presides over the Republican Party's Imaginary America.
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The imaginary words that Eastwood chooses to put into Imaginary Obama's mouth are both laughable and telling. Twice Imaginary President Obama tells Eastwood to shut up.
[3:26] [Responding to imaginary voice] "What do you mean 'shut up'?"Imaginary Obama is not the gracious, diplomatic, warm and sunny family man that the rest of America sees in their news pictures and interviews. Nor the accommodating deal-maker that has too frequently given too much away to the GOP for too little in return.
No, Imaginary Obama is rude. In truth, if Obama had ever dared utter the words "shut up" to a political opponent, the apoplectic fits, righteous indication and poutrage coming from the right probably would end the republic as we know it. (The Left wouldn't care, because we'd probably all immediately be raptured to liberal Heaven.)
Eastwood goes on:
"I thought it was just because someone had the stupid idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York City."The audience laughs at Imaginary Obama's foolishness. But, this was an imaginary problem created by the right because they just needed something to yell about. In fact, Bill Clinton did try and convict the 1993 World Trade Center bombing suspects in downtown New York City without incident, or anyone even raising complaints. I know, we're in a post-9/11 world now, it's much more dangerous; the terrorists have box-cutters now.
Eastwood broaches foreign policy with Imaginary Obama:
[4:04] "You thought the war in Afghanistan was okay. You thought that was something that was worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how they did there for 10 years."The crowd laughs at Obama's folly because in Imaginary America, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is culpable for Republican President George W. Bush's hubris to presume America would succeed where Russia and so many others had failed.
[4:44] "And I think Mr.Romney asked the only sensible question, why are you giving the date out now, why don't you just bring them home tomorrow?"This is met with enthusiastic applause because in Imaginary America Republicans hate war.
In Imaginary America, President Obama can be simultaneously incompetent for not bringing the troops home from Afghanistan fast enough, and also for not sending them to Iran, Syria, Russia and wherever else fast enough. In Imaginary America troops are infinite resources that can be simultaneously brought home to be with their family and be shipped off to fight new and exciting wars. We can fund these invasions of Syria, Russia and Iran with the Imaginary revenues generated by tax cuts for the rich. In Imaginary America there is no need to judiciously weight cost/benefit analysis when Imaginary America imagines a security threat.
And again, Imaginary Obama tells Eastwood to shut up and worse:
[5:05] "I'm not gonna shut up, it's my turn.The crowd laughs uproariously. It's funny because even befuddled and confused as he was, Clint Eastwood really got to Imaginary Obama, and made him lose his cool.
What? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that, he can't do that to himself."
It doesn't matter that in real life—the one that the rest of the country experienced—it was really the Republican Party's own vice-president that told a senator to "go f--- himself." In Imaginary America it is Obama who is crude and decompensates when challenged. Remember Imaginary Obama is rude. A rude and angry black man (natch!).
Add Eastwood's little make-believe sketch to the mounting evidence (like Todd Akin's popular theory of rape and the functioning of lady parts) that the Republican Party has completely checked out of the "reality-based community," and intends never to look back.
We were warned it was coming
The term "reality-based community" was popularized after it ran in Ron Suskind's 2004 New York Times Magazine article on George W. Bush:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''The anonymous quote was later attributed to Karl Rove, not surprisingly.
There's actually a lot of cynical wisdom there and we are now seeing this philosophy mature into its final incarnation. No longer does the Republican Party feel even a perfunctory obligation to even appear to be tethered to the same reality that the rest of the country experiences. Don't like the opponent the Democrats have fielded in a race? No problem, The Daily Show's John Oliver explains, "You can change that," just invent a worse one. Sit him down in an empty chair and you can win the debate with your imaginary opponent.
Once you've successfully and completely decoupled from reality, there's really no limit to what imaginary crimes you can accuse your opponent of committing: going on imaginary apology tours, engineering an imaginary government takeover of health care that includes imaginary death panels, imposing imaginary tax hikes on the middle class, the imaginary abandonment of Israel, waging an imaginary war on Christianity and the Second Amendment, an imaginary gutting of welfare work requirements.
And of course, being an imaginary citizen of Kenya.
In Imaginary America an automobile plant that closed during the Bush Administration didn't close then, it closed during the Obama administration.
Imaginary America is always on the precipice of disaster. Whether it's Iran nuking us, gays ruining marriage and tempting human extinction, states succeeding in civil war, the poor and people of color fraudulently voting, Muslims imposing Sharia law, or God forbid, Obama securing a second term, Imaginary America is nothing if not very fragile and rests perpetually on the slippery slope of a calamitous ruin that only Republicans can avert.
Conversely, perversely, Imaginary America feels no sense of urgency to address climate change, end fossil fuel dependency, deliver mortgage relief, or help the impoverished, or the sick and uninsured.
Conservatives live in an Imaginary America, where evolution and climate change are not real. It's a country where kids will avoid drugs and sexual activity if you just tell them to say "no," and all the scientific studies reporting the failure of such strategies just do not exist. In Imaginary America you can just pray the gay away, again never mind all the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.
"Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes true" is the cliche. Ironically, we can look to science to vindicate this hypothesis. Psychologists call it "mass hysteria," the inclination of groups of people to believe the same delusion; as when an entire village "witnesses" a witch fly or "sees" a UFO. Under the sage mentorship of Karl Rove the Republican Party has learned well to harness the power of mass hysteria to win elections.
Can the media save us? Will they?
The rub in their dastardly plan to transport the electorate away from actual reality is, of course, the Fourth Estate. Recognizing this, candidates from Sarah Palin to Sharron Angle all the way up to Gov. Romney have scrupulously sequestered themselves away from being asked to reconcile their version of reality with the reality that others experience. Another tactic is for candidates to dictate the rules of engagement to desperate, complicit and obsequious media outlets.
But has the GOP finally pushed the envelope too far? Are there still a few souls left in the profession of journalism that were inspired by the likes of Edward R. Murrow, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein? Do some long to be more than just pets ferried around on candidate's private plane, fattened with doughnuts and barbeque and tasked only with regurgitating the press releases and talking points they are spoon fed?
We should perhaps be grateful the GOP has become so brazen. Finally, finally, after all the egregious fairy tales spun by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan Wednesday night, many in the media had enough gumption to call his lies what they were: "lies." Dare we hope the media may warm to the idea that "objectively" and "balance" doesn't mean giving "both sides" an equivalent weight?
My worst fear is Rove was right, and reality doesn't matter anymore.
But my greatest hope is Rove is wrong. And if he is, one thing Democrats have going for them is that unlike Clint Eastwood, Mitt Romney will not have the luxury of debating an imaginary opponent in an empty chair. Romney will square off against a charismatic man who saved General Motors and vanquished Osama Bin Laden. Romney will face the man who pulled the country back from the economic brink, has competently presided over foreign turmoil in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere and pulled the U.S. out of Iraq with a minimum of mess.
My greatest hope is come November, President Obama and the Democrats are able to force feed a very bitter taste of reality to the Republican Party. And I think they will.