The Biggest, Baddest, Brassiest Lies About Barack Obama (and a few Dishonorable Mentions)

Are we going to defend this Constitution that we celebrated tonight, or are we going to watch it be eroded by a Commander-in-Chief who disrespects this Constitution, doesn’t believe in free enterprise, doesn’t believe in life and families.”  — Rep. Steve King (R-IA)

Having declared that the current crop of Republicans is perhaps the most mendacious gaggle of politicians in U.S. history, we ought to back that up with more specifics. Fortunately, that isn’t hard to do. Most of the GOP’s lies and distortions are directed toward President Obama, who is surely the most disrespected and defamed president — if not the most disrespected and defamed person — in history. [This was written before Hillary Clinton overtook him for that distinction in 2016.]

You’ve no doubt heard many of the lies and wacky rumors already. They’re constantly batted about by the batty media, and you surely have friends and relatives who cut and paste them onto Facebook. Every day, all day long. But many of the golliwhoppers also have been incorporated into their act by the Romney-Ryan Revue. Indeed at the first so-called debate, Mitt Romney attained the extraordinary feat of cramming 27 stretchers into 38 minutes. For which he was promptly and universally acclaimed the winner — at least among Americans. That spin didn’t necessarily echo across the pond.  (Current TV’s Jennifer Granholm has an interesting commentary comparing Romney’s lies to Obama’s lies and discussing the common “conservative” strategy of working the refs. On the other hand, you could conclude, as Time did, that Obama’s lies are worse because they’re more accurate. Seriously.)

Virtually all politicians lie and spin, and virtually all politicians are the target of lies and spin. But the falsehoods about the current U.S. president qualify as a whole new life form. A good indicator is the Snopes tally. At last count, after less than 4 years he’s been in office, Snopes has listed 253 Obama rumors, the overwhelming majority of which are false. (The true ones often involve what other people have said and done in regard to Obama rather than what he’s said or done. Snopes verified, for example, the Internet story about a 95-year-old veteran writing Obama a disparaging letter. But that letter just regurgitated some of the misinformation and disinformation about the president, thus reinforcing the observation that he’s being severely and unjustly maligned.) And while I really get tired of having to defend him, it’s virtually impossible to survey contemporary propaganda without defending him.

The lies about Obama are of three basic types. First, there are the loony lies, such as you might hear at a rally of Tea Partiers vowing to “take back” their country from the other 98 percent. Or at a public appearance by Steve King. These include the following:

The Loony Lies

He’s a Muslim.

He’s a socialist.

He’s a Kenyan (and he admitted his birth certificate is a fake).

Death panels.

Socialized medicine.

Government takeover of medicine.

He wants to take away your guns.

He wants to outlaw fishing.

He can’t talk without a teleprompter.

He faked the death of bin Laden.

He’s had all his records sealed.

etc., etc., etc.

These already have been given far more attention than they ever deserved, so we’re not going to bother commenting on them here.

Then there are what we might call the General Myths. These are broader and more subjective, but just as false:

The General Myths

He’s arrogant and self-serving.

He assumes credit for things he didn’t do, and passes blame for things he did do.

He’s fiercely partisan and won’t work with the opposition party.

He’s unduly secretive.

He’s suppressing liberty and constitutional rights.

He’s a slacker who hasn’t accomplished anything.

etc., etc., etc.

It’s certainly possible to discredit claims like these, but to do so conclusively would require a great deal more space than we’d want to devote to it here — particularly since it would entail more an examination of politics than of propaganda. So we’ll give them a pass as well. (But in regard to the myth that his presidency has been a failure, here’s a list of 200 of the president’s accomplishments for starters.)

We’re also going to bypass the spin campaigns around certain events such as the attempts to make corruption-ridden scandals out of Fast and Furious and Solyndra,  — or even, for crying out loud, the terrorist attack in Libya. What we’re focusing on instead are the Brassy Lies: those that are (1) specific, (2) quickly disproved, (3) nonetheless realistic sounding enough that sane and reasonable people might fall for them if they didn’t know better, and (4) particularly audacious because of who is spreading them.  And they deal with matters of some consequence, as opposed to just daffy rumors about the president canceling the National Day of Prayer or giving the First Pooch his own plane. If you’re curious about rumors of that sort, see Snopes.

The Brassy Lies

Lie # 1: “You didn’t build that”.

This one is based on words the president actually uttered, but the GOPers have wrenched them out of context and totally distorted their meaning: from “We’re all in this together” to “You have no control over your own achievements”.  (Compare “Redistribution of Wealth”.) The funny thing is, whenever they trot out an entrepreneurial success story that’s intended to contradict the president’s words, it always does exactly the opposite.

Lie # 2: The “apology” tour.

President Obama is, beyond a doubt, far more diplomatic and humble, and far less jingoistic than his predecessor. But contrary to persistent right-wing claims, he’s never once apologized for America.

Lie # 3: He’s a promise breaker.

It’s becoming standard procedure among the GOP in this Age of Rove to forgo troubling the public so much with actual issues and just frame their Democratic opponents with a one-word or two-word epithet. With Al Gore it was liar (even though they couldn’t produce a single lie he’d actually told). With John Kerry, it was flip-flopper (based on a single instance in which he really didn’t flip-flop, but his words — discussing a stance he’d taken based on fraudulent intel provided by the guy he was running against — were brilliantly edited by Team Rove). Now, they’ve at least graduated to two words — unless you also hyphenate promise-breaker. But they’re still just as disingenuous.

One could make a strong case that in fact this president has had a better than average track record as promise keeper, particularly given the amount of time he’s been in office. But there’s even more to the story.

On the night of his inauguration, when most of the nation was celebrating this momentous milestone, a group of Republicans held a secret meeting to lay out a strategy for thwarting his every move. Bear in mind that this was before he’d done a single thing as chief executive that anyone might object to. Among this group was a certain Wisconsin congressman named Paul Ryan. Another attendee summed up the focus of the meeting this way:

If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority. We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.

At a time when the country was sunk in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and bin Laden was still at large, they admitted that their number one priority was making Obama a “one-term president” — even if it meant stalling the economic recovery to make him look bad, keeping workers unemployed so they could pin a high unemployment figure on him.  Their vendetta has reached such South Park playground proportions that they voted down a veterans’ jobs bill the president supported — with the four of them who helped write it actually voting against their own bill!

Obama probably was guilty of being naive when he doled out campaign promises on the assumption that he would obtain at least minimal cooperation from the elephant herd. But given the level of intense and persistent sabotage he encountered instead, his level of achievement has been nothing short of miraculous.

When Tea Partiers parrot the line that he is a promise breaker, they probably just don’t know any better. When Republican politicians do it, they definitely do know better. Because they know damn well that they’re the ones who engineered the logjam. And they did it entirely for political power, using the American public as pawns. (Note: Republicans counter this with a claim that the GOP-controlled House has introduced several jobs bills that have not passed the Democratic-controlled Senate. Which just goes to show they know how to be creative in their terminology. Number one on the list of “jobs bills” is one that would reduce regulation of pesticides.)

Lie # 4. He “gutted” Medicare.

Or robbed it. Or slashed it. Or raided its trust fund. Whatever the verbiage used, the claim is essentially the same: that the president reduced the funding for Medicare benefits by $716 billion. He didn’t. But the Affordable Care Act is estimated to reduce Medicare costs  by that amount — which, far from gutting it, should make it healthier.

This lie deserves a special Brass Balls Award for three reasons: (1) Republicans themselves always claim to represent waste-cutting and fiscal responsibility; (2) Republicans themselves have never been — how shall we put this — particularly supportive of Medicare; and (3) Paul Ryan’s budget called for the same cuts, and it was heavily supported by congressional Republicans.

Lie # 5: He sued to prevent early voting in Ohio by the military.

Quite the opposite. He sued to allow early voting by all Ohio voters, including military personnel. Republicans wanted to restrict this privilege to military only. So to bolster their cause, they concocted this widely believed lie.

Lie # 6:  He’s outspent any president in the past 60 years.

Nope. Thus far, federal spending under Obama has shown the lowest increase of any president since Eisenhower (excluding Ford) in actual dollars. Adjusted for inflation, it’s shown the second lowest, and in fact actually constitutes a decrease.

Lie # 7. He’s amassed an unprecedented national debt.

There are several incarnations of this theme: he’s built up more debt than any other president; he doubled the debt in his first year; and (gotta love this one) he increased the debt more than all previous presidents combined. None of which is in the same galaxy as the truth. When Obama was inaugurated, the total debt stood at 10.6 trillion.  At the end of his first year, it had increased to 12.3 trillion, and it currently stands at about 16 trillion. When all else fails, try grade school arithmetic, folks.

We should also note that there’s a big difference between saying that these increases have occurred on Obama’s watch and saying that he actually caused them. Much of the debt is attributable to the horrendous economy and the two wars he inherited. Furthermore, we should note that the rate of increase has actually slowed.

Lie # 8. He bailed out the banks.

Despite the fact that nearly half of Americans believe otherwise, President Obama did not initiate the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). That would be George W. Bush.

Lie # 9: He’s eliminating welfare work requirements.

The president’s plan overhauls welfare guidelines, largely for the purpose of cutting through red tape, but it certainly does not  eliminate work requirements, nor does it, to use another popular Romney soundbite, “gut welfare reform”. Furthermore, at the time he took office, only 29 percent of welfare recipients were required to work.

Lie # 10:  He’s demonstrated his tyranny with over 900 executive orders, an unprecedented number.

Wrong on two counts. First, 900 is hardly unprecedented.  Theodore Roosevelt issued 1081, Franklin Roosevelt 3522, Harry Truman 907, Calvin Coolidge 1203 and Herbert Hoover 968. Second, President Obama thus far has issued only 138 — which actually gives him the LOWEST total since Chester Arthur!  (At the present rate, there’s a slight chance that after two terms he’ll end up with the second-lowest total.) Moreover, most of the executive orders being attributed to President Obama in those Facebook posts were actually issued by other presidents, often long ago.

Lie # 11:  He’s failed to support Israel.

That’s what Romney and company say. But it ain’t exactly what Israel says.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; it barely scratches the surface. It’s just meant to be a representative sampling. Nobody possibly could keep up with all of the lies. In addition to the falsehoods about Obama himself, there is a substantial body of mythology about nearly everything he’s ever done, including being born. A particularly ripe field for folklore is the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare”. Didja hear that it’s gonna call for 16,500 armed IRS agents to enforce it?

The smears against the president, however, are part of a broader and more disturbing trend; showing disrespect for the man — and by extension for the office he holds and the nation he represents — has become something of a national pastime.  Until he came along, it would have been unthinkable for fellow elected officials to publicly make the kind of statements Steve King made, or to accuse the president of collaborating with the enemy, or destroying America, or to interrupt his speech to call him a liar. Now, such occurrences are routine.

It’s tempting to dismiss it as racism, and no doubt that’s a factor in some cases. But it’s not the whole story. I just wish I could say that there is something, anything about Barack H. Obama in particular that would prompt such irrational and all-consuming hatred; and that once they get rid of this commie/fascist/Muslim/atheist/terrorist/Kenyan who wants to (shudder) make medicine and marriage available to everyone, things will go back to “normal”.

But the truth, I fear, is worse: this is the new normal for right-wing fanatics. This is how they will behave toward any Democrat, from now until Doomsday. Why shouldn’t they? It works. Sure, the president almost certainly will be reelected in spite of the propaganda. But the race apparently will be much closer than it should have been.  Obama Derangement Syndrome has not been contained among the loony fringe; it’s spread to a lot of other people as well. After all, Ron Paul is the one who contributed the colorful touch that those 16,500 phantom IRS agents would be “armed”. And he ain’t exactly a crackpot, is he? Oh. But still.

There are plenty of intelligent and sensible people, including some who voted for Obama in 2008, who swallow the bullshit. According to one Harris poll, 40 % of Americans (and 67% of Republicans) believe that President Obama is a socialist; 38% (61% of Republicans) believe he wants to “take away our guns”; 32% (57 % of Republicans) believe he is a Muslim; 20% (38% of Republicans) believe he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”; 25% (45% of Republicans) believe he is foreign-born. Those are all a lot more than the Tea Party’s 2%.

With that kind of success, it would be naive to expect that there’ll ever be any turning back.

(Go here for a good debunking of 5 more Obama falsehoods, including those about golf, vacations, taxes and Arlington National Cemetery.)


  1. Okay, he’s not a socialist–he just thinks that the federal government should be in control of most things. And I will give him #86 on your list. That was a good job, well done. As far as educational spending goes, if $10,500 per student isn’t enough to get the job done, how much will it take to do the job? Still, you seem like a somewhat reasonable person, and I wonder how you can not be concerned about his willingness to use Presidential fiat to accomplish his goals.

    • My concern over what he does is really not the issue. For what it’s worth, if I voted in this election (I won’t) I’d definitely vote for Obama given the (lack of) alternatives. That doesn’t mean that I approve of everything he does. But I’m puzzled by your reference to his “use of Presidential fiat to accomplish his goals”. I don’t know exactly what that’s supposed to refer to.

  2. One is deciding to enforce the provisions of the Dream Act, although it was never passed by Congress. Another is issuing “guidance” letters to defense contractors, telling them that they don’t have to follow the WARN Act, and further, stating that if they follow the White House’s “guidance” and get sued, that the taxpayers will pay their fines. What happened to the protections for the workers that the WARN Act was designed to enforce? He’s already said that he intends to bypass Congress if re-elected. We have 3 branches of government for a reason.

    I don’t think that dislike of President Obama’s policies (or hatred, as you call it) is entirely irrational. There are plenty of people, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams included, who think that it’s a bad idea to invest so much power in the federal government. Mitt Romney is merely the latest in a long line, and the Republicans who follow him can see where this whole thing is heading.

    The Republicans are not the only ones who have sunk respect for the office to a new low: “eye candy”. Really?

    • Again, it isn’t disagreement with the president’s policies or actions that are at issue. My point in this post is that right-wing attacks have gone way, way WAAAAAAAYYYY beyond mere criticism. As I said, one needn’t agree with the president’s every move in order to support him in general. Even if one takes exception to the two actions you mentioned, they are nowhere near the supposed dictatorial overstepping of executive authority that right-wingers allege. In fact (and again, this isn’t particularly relevant) I tend to support his position on the DREAM act. The “bypassing Congress” soundbite is the result of some subtle but substantial tweaking: he actually said that IF CONGRESS CONTINUED TO BLOCK ECONOMIC RECOVERY (for political reasons, remember) then he’d take whatever action he could on his own and “work around Congress”. We should be sorely disappointed if he did any less. No, it isn’t particularly respectful of the presidency to refer to Mr. Obama as “eye candy”. But surely you don’t mean to suggest that this is stooping anywhere near as low as the Hitler caricature at the top of this page.

  3. For which he was promptly and universally acclaimed the winner — at least among Americans.

    No, the BBC said the same thing about the debates.

    Victoria, I think you will find that even the founding fathers wanted a stronger Federal presence–otherwise, they could have made do with the Articles of Confederation. Sadly, the Articles of Confederation proved to be worthless for running a nation.

    A more modern example is the Euro Crisis. Nation/States which do not have political unity are not a strong force.

    We could argue whether the lack of strong federal powers is what keeps Australia and Canada from overtaking the US politically as well.. If you want to see what a less centralised US would be like, you only need to look northward.

    • In response to both P.O.P. and lacithedog, I am not going to address each of your points, because I prefer to discuss principles and philosophy rather than get caught up in the weeds of the righteousness of any particular item.

      That being said, lacithedog, there is a difference between a federal government with a strong foreign presence, and one that interferes in the daily lives of its citizens.

      P.O.P., Working around Congress is the most unconstitutional act that a President can do. The purpose of having three branches of government is so that they can obstruct each other. The government is supposed to move slowly and be unwieldy. It is not meant to have the lightning fast reflexes of one man with a mission.

      “A government that is big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” Thomas Jefferson

      “No man’s life, liberty, or fortune is safe while our legislature is in session.” Benjamin Franklin

      Do those men sound like they’d be a bit concerned that Congress is too obstreperous?

      • I truly doubt whether Jefferson or Franklin or anyone else at that time foresaw the kind of shenanigans being perpetrated by today’s GOP. Political acrimony has always been with us, to be sure, but now we’ve really slipped into The Twilight Zone. That being said, we shouldn’t forget that members of Congress, like the president, are not the real government — we the people are, and they’re our elected representatives. President Obama is trying to do the job the people hired him for; Republicans in Congress are trying to prevent him from doing that job and, in the process, are deliberately refusing themselves to serve the needs of the people who elected them. The purpose of having three branches of government is not to “obstruct” each other, but to complement and balance each other. The president has tried very hard to work with the GOP, and they will have none of it. Now his only options are to “work around” them or do nothing at all. Is the latter your preference, in exchange for a salary of 400 grand a year? Every president has “a mission”; and federal governments always interfere in the daily lives of their citizens, no matter how much they may claim otherwise (and in my observation it’s usually the politicians who claim they don’t who actually interfere in the most intrusive manner). Obama’s actions, whether we like them or not — and if we don’t, I hear there’s an election coming up soon — are within a president’s authority. And — my most important point of all — they are NOT as they are being portrayed by the right-wing extremists who, for whatever reason, want his gonads on a platter.

  4. Bottom Line: Republicans admit that their top priority is bringing down Obama whatever it takes. It stands to reason, then, that if they had any genuine presidential abuse of power to seize upon –any real Watergate — they’d hammer away at it with gale force. Instead, they hammer away at Solyndra, Fast and Furious, the attack in Libya, etc. etc. — and the wacky rumors about death panels and birth certificates. That gives you a very good idea how flimsy are the nails they have to crucify him with.

  5. Victoria, I don’t respond well to unattributed and unsourced quotations–it’s too easy to take them out of context.

    Had Franklin felt that way about the Federal System, he could have voted against adopting the Constitution. That would have left the US with the Articles of Confederation.

    Victoria, I doubt that you are familiar with something called Shays’ Rebellion, but it is something which any American–especially one who claims to support the US and the Constitution should be aware. It was a key influence in adopting the Constitution.

    One thing you are obviously not aware of, Victoria, is that like the other advocates of republicanism, Franklin emphasized that the new republic could survive only if the people were virtuous (See also Patrick Henry’s Independence: Blessing or Curse piece).

    One of those virtues was good citizenship, which is sadly lacking in modern society. They also liked INFORMED opinions, which those given by the Tea Party crowd are not.

  6. I’m surprised the Professor didn’t jump on Victoria’s use of unattributed quotes as a tactic of propaganda.

    Victoria is attempting to show that the founders disliked federalism,in particular Franklin, and supported her position. This couldn’t be further from the Fact, Franklin was a strong supporter of Federalism as anyone is familiar with him knows. He wanted to unite the colonies and is famous for his join or die cartoon.

    Likewise, given Jefferson’s support for the Shays’ rebels (which is where the “watering the tree of liberty” quote comes from–he would be more likely to support the occupy movement than the tea party rebels.

    As I pointed out, the supporters of a republic had strong feelings about the expressions such as those made by the Tea Party. Samuel Adams said:

    in monarchies the crime of treason and rebellion may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death. (Samuel Adams, quoted in William Pencak, “Samuel Adams and Shays’ Rebellion,” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1 (March, 1989): 64 ).

  7. […] Part of the explanation is that the Bush administration had done an excellent job of exploiting the 9-11 attack for political advantage, invoking it to justify everything from tax cuts for the wealthy to domestic drilling for oil. As Bush himself repeatedly reminded us, we were either with him or we were with the “terrists”. And a large portion of the American public, eager to be angry at someone, bought into it. Anyone who dared question the nation’s leader in even the smallest detail was likely to be branded as anti-American. (My, how times have changed.) […]

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