Thursday, June 21, 2012

Did Obama Base His Campaign on a Comic Book?

I was going through some back issues of "The Adventures of Superman", and came across some interesting issues (#619 and #620) from 2003. What intrigued me were some parallels with the 2008 election between Barack Obama and John McCain. Though I was aware (vaguely) of the story arc, I didn't make the connection then. Keep in mind that at two issues this was a very short arc.

So here's the deal. Out of nowhere, an extremely charismatic figure shows up and announces his candidacy for President of the United States. As you apparently can in the comics, he does this without disclosing his real name, billing himself only as "The Candidate".  

So what is the platform? Well... there is none, really. At least no significant policy platform. He does, however, run on slogans involving hope, change, and distrust of the current administration (and since Lex Luthor is the incumbent President in this reality, it's not that hard to be distrustful).



Rhetoric over Policy

Now, the parallel isn't perfect. It hardly could be. This was published five years before the 2008 elections. "The Candidate" is the stereotypical whitebread Arian minister-type in a white suit, while Obama delivered the same message format from a Black pulpit. But it's uncanny all the same. And the parallel doesn't need to be exact to illustrate my point... I'm not suggesting that DC comics was prognosticating. Rather, I'm wondering -- given the indisputable facts that this hugely popular comic came first and illustrated a very similar campaign strategy for the most recent previous election cycle -- whether someone influential on Obama's campaign team read it, thought it could work, and adopted it. Whether it was done consciously or not really doesn't matter. I think a solid argument can be made that  the 2008 campaign was based on a comic book!

Distrust the incumbent!
Not hard... the incumbent is Lex Luthor!
Who does he think he is, anyway?
"...a light will shine down from somewhere. It will light upon you.
You will experience an epiphany.
And you will say to yourself, 'I have to vote for Barack.'"
-- Barack Obama, Jan 7, 2008

The Next Effort... a little background, and a conspiracy

So what about the latest campaign? Could we conceivably see more of the same?  Well, let's look at those DC comics issues again, shall we? And be warned that in this section I'm going to float a conspiracy theory, not because I believe it, but purely because it was fun cooking it up based on a comic book juxtaposed against current events. You can build a conspiracy theory on just about anything... it's not particularly difficult.

In the news feed we have a lot of recent activity regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a scheme in which illegal firearms were knowingly sold to puppets of Mexican drug cartels, in the hopes of somehow tracking the weapons (presumably through magic) to the cartels themselves, and leading to their arrest. Instead, in a twist that surprised no one but the Justice Department, the guns were used in crimes, and resulted the deaths of many innocent people and two border patrol agents. Now, Operation Fast and Furious was an Obama administration continuation of a similarly stupid Bush administration plan, Project Gunrunner (same link). It should have been pretty simple to kill the project rather than rename it and continue it. But because it was renamed and continued, I'm afraid the current administration doesn't get to blame this one on the previous crew (as they very well could have done IF they had just killed it).

But who to blame is not the intriguing and relevant part of this.

Today we saw Barack Obama invoke executive privilege regarding papers that were subpoenaed by Congress from the Attorney General's office. Now the safe, sane, political approach to this would simply be to find out who was responsible for this mishegoss and rightly toss his ass under a bus. Whoever it is belongs under the bus, so that's not even a moral dilemma. But instead, the Attorney General has stonewalled Congress for months, and now the President assumes responsibility of the problem by declaring executive privilege.

"Assumes responsibility?" you gasp. Well, yes. The precedent is clear. In 1972, Richard Nixon did not break into the Watergate hotel. He didn't order anyone to do it, either, and at no time did anyone indict him of that. He did, however, attempt to cover it up after the fact, invoking executive privilege to do so, and that's what lead to his resignation (contrary to popular belief he was not impeached).  It was Nixon injecting himself into the situation, protecting those who did wrong on his behalf, that took him out.

Because of the Watergate scandal, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the subject of executive privilege, ruling in United States v Nixon (1974) that the privilege could only be invoked when involving communications of his own office, and then for specific causes, which could in fact be over-ruled, as in the case of Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

So again, the sane political approach is to prosecute wrongdoers, not protect them. This leaves precious few reasons to legitimately invoke executive privilege. One is because there are ongoing national security concerns, military or otherwise. Another is because of diplomatic concerns. A third is because you personally were involved in the conversations (and even then it's limited, as we saw with Clinton). Now, it would be the easy course for my fictional conspiracy to be due to the President's involvement in Operation Fast and Furious. Too easy. No, here I'm imagining the President to be completely innocent... squeaky clean... and injecting himself for a fourth reason, one that's more in keeping with the tone of our comic-book conspiracy and which keeps us on topic.

In "The Adventures of Superman" issue #619, we're told that "The Candidate" is the target of an assassination plot.  In issue #620, it's revealed that the hit man (in this case an alien, but hey, it's the comics) was hired by none other than "The Candidate" himself! Why? Because in casting himself as a martyr... a victim... he secures his popularity and his legacy. 

So in our imaginary Glenn Beck-inspired almost-Earth, Barack Obama injects himself into the issue because he wants to be investigated. He wants to be a victim and to be persecuted. He can pick any reason to blame it on... racism, demagoguery, just plain "mean-oldness"... it doesn't matter. The end result is that he can say to the public, "Hey, I've got your back, now I need you to have mine!" In a campaign end-game it gives him an emotional string to pull to replace the worn-out and increasingly ineffectual one of Bush-hatred.

The very best part of it is, when it turns out that the President really is squeaky-clean, and his exertion of executive privilege is for no apparent reason at all, everyone else loses. He still gets to assert that in his assessment, national security was at stake. Your assessment may differ, but that's an 'honest' disagreement. He still gets to assert that he's the victim of a witch-hunt, despite any reasonable doubts raised by continued stone-walling of Congress. In this scenario, inserting his innocent self into this scenario is an exercise of the old adage, "there's no such thing as bad publicity." And he still gets to play an emotional wild-card on the electorate, even if it be one of his own manufacture.

Of course, that's the sort of thing that could only happen in a comic book.


  1. This "Fast and Furious" business was a botched execution of a botched concept. The concept was developed under the Bush Administration, but it was greatly expanded with Recovery Act Money that not enough attention was paid to where it was going. Money was flowing to stimulate the economy, and some num-nutz thought that meant it would be a "good" idea to expand "Operation Gun Runner." I don't think the operation was conceived within the Obama Administration, and I don't think it was as closely monitored by the Obama Administration as it should have been. After all, this involved dangerous weapons flowing across our borders. There wasn't the oversight that needed to be there.

    Now, to be clear, Congress is NOT investigating who is responsible for "Fast and Furious." That's not what the current crisis with the Justice and Eric Holder is about. The reason Eric Holder is being held in contempt is because Congress went on a fishing trip to see how the Administration had covered up the debacle. Who know what, and when did they know it? Holder turned over thousands of documents, but since they didn't show there was a big cover-up, Republicans in Congress KNEW that Holder was lying. It was the lack of seeing something terrible that PROVED that something terrible must have been withheld!

    There is also the Conspiracy Theory going around that "Fast and Furious" was part of some secret Rube Goldberg type plot to weaken second amendment protections for gun owners. The President of the NRA has actually said that because Obama has not tried to expand gun control, that's how we KNOW that Obama wants to radically expand gun control. It's all part of a dark PLOT!

    NRA President Wayne La Pierre has said, “Obama himself is no fool. So when he got elected, they concocted a scheme to stay away from the gun issue, lull gun owners to sleep and play us for fools in 2012. Well, gun owners are not fools and we are not fooled."

    “Sotomayor, Kagan, Fast & Furious, the United Nations, executive orders. Those are the facts we face today… President Obama and his cohorts, yeah, they’re going to deny their conspiracy to fool gun owners. Some in the liberal media, they are already probably blogging about it. But we don’t care because the lying, conniving Obama crowd can kiss our Constitution!”

    See how that works? Because Obama has NOT come for their guns, the NRA is CONVINCED that Obama is coming for their guns! And that Fast and Furious is part of this conspiracy! It's a form of logic that honestly makes NO SENSE to me.

    Well, Congress didn't find proof of that plot to weaken the Second Amendment either. So, of course, it must be Holder who is holding out on that information too. Right?

    Holder has turned over thousands of documents. He has offered to turn over many more. But does Congress have the Right to go on fishing expeditions through all the memos back and forth between the President and the Justice Department? Can the Congress just use their hunch that because incriminating evidence has not been turned over, the incriminating evidence must have been withheld? Is there really a justification for asking for MORE and MORE documents until and unless something incriminating turns up? No. So Obama exerted Executive Privilege.

    Obama is certainly not the first President to invoke Executive Privilege. But this is the first time President Obama has invoked an assertion of executive privilege. By comparison, President George W. Bush invoked executive privilege six times while in office; President Bill Clinton used it 14 times; President George H.W. Bush used it once; and President Ronald Reagan used it three times, according to the Associated Press.

  2. (Continued. Sorry. I'm a liberal ranting, ranty ranter.)

    The themes that this comic puts forward were not unique to Obama's campaign. Many politicians make promises of change, hope and of being different than what is currently in office. That's almost a cliche.

    Now, the question is, did Obama offer up empty platitudes of "Change" and "Hope" in 2008 that he didn't deliver on? Personally I think a LOT has changed. Obama got rid of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Change! He's come out in favor of Gay Marriage. HOPE!

    Obama passed a massive, comprehensive reform of healthcare. By contrast, G.W Bush's idea of healthcare reform (Medicare Part D) COSTS the taxpayer more than 700 BILLION in deficit spending over 10 years. No attempt was made to put revenue generation into the law (no new taxes or fees). There are no cost savings for the government in Medicare Part D. It actually makes it ILLEGAL for the government to negotiate lower drug prices! And there were no cuts to other programs to help pay for Medicare Part D. It's ALL deficit spending! Compare that with Obamacare, which is NOT a perfect piece of legislation, but it will GENERATE 165 BILLION over ten years in cost savings, new revenues and cuts to other programs. Which healthcare program seems more "fiscally conservative" to you?

    Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

    Obama was able to take out Osama bin Laden. In fact, Obama has taken out more of Al Queda's top leadership.

    And Obama SAVED the domestic auto industry, without Nationalizing it. He did more than what Mitt Romney was willing to do at the time. And I think Obama will do more to help domestic job growth than Mitt Romney would be willing to do.

    The Paul Ryan budget has draconian cuts to domestic spending and a senseless expansion of defense spending.

    Now, when Obama took office, the USA was loosing 850 THOUSAND jobs a month. Obama's policies almost immediately slowed that trend and turned in around to jobs gains. We have had consistent job gains for more than two years, more than 4.3 MILLION private sector jobs to the Economy. G.W. Bush oversaw the contraction of Private Sector jobs by more than 600,000 over his eight years. So who has the better record on Private Sector job growth?

    Is taking us for a net loss of more than 800 THOUSAND jobs a month to consistent job gains over the last two years an improvement? You bet! So when Romney says that Obama took a bad situation and made it worse, he's lying. Now, we are still in a bad situation. But we are much better off than we were. And we are headed in the right direction.

    By contrast, G.W. Bush saw an expansion of Government Jobs by 1.8 MILLION over his eight years. The only reason that G.W. Bush saw ANY job growth in his eight years was because of an expansion in Government. By contrast, because of Republican obstructionism toward Obama's Jobs Act and other recovery measures, government jobs in the USA have CONTRACTED by more than 600 THOUSAND.

    Do I blame Obama for not creating more jobs? Yes. But not as much as I blame an obstructionist Republican Congress, hellbent on opposition versus recovery.

    Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive and having record profits. Domestic manufacturing has seen growth in jobs for two straight years. There were NO years of manufacturing job growth under G.W. Bush. Under Obama, domestic energy production is UP while cars on the US Highways have NEVER been more fuel efficient. I can't call that a comprehensive Energy Policy, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. We're in a better place than were were three and a half years ago, by a LONG shot.

  3. I haz made the best Russ-bait evah! Glad you got all that off your chest!

  4. (I wouldn't just leave you hanging like that. Here's a real reply)

    Since you float a counter-conspiracy in the first part of your response, I'll respond to that. The second part of your response is campaign stumping about all manner of things not addressed in my original post, and since all of it is off-topic, I'll ignore it for brevity.

    The trick to floating a counter-conspiracy is the same as floating a conspiracy, and it's in three parts. Part ONE: Verisimilitude. Provide lots of links and data, no matter how minor. The illusion of pervasiveness is what matters, not the quality of each datum. Cover a wall with pictures if you can, and use a lot of thumbtacks and colored yarn to connect them. Sadly, you don't do a lot of that here. And when the links are sparse, the quality does matter. Your second link, for example, is to a rather lackluster Reuters article that merely gives a source for the number of times that each president used executive privilege. Not terribly informative, since (unlike the Wikipedia article I gave in my O.P.) it doesn't address WHY executive privilege was invoked. The number of times executive privilege is invoked is irrelevant, and the reasons crucial since, in principle, it could be invoked a hundred times for good and valid national security reasons without criticism... or ONCE in a cover-up. (Eisenhower invoked it 44 times!)

    But the first of the two links you provide links to the NRA, and illustrates a brilliant example of Part TWO: Non-disprovability. Wayne LaPierre spins a web of intrigue which, would yield precisely the same result from you whether right or wrong. Now THAT's how it's done! It's lunacy, but it's lunacy done WELL.

    You do a great job with the Part THREE, though, which is: Shift the target. Throw in as many irrelevancies as possible to get the other guy bogged down and confused. This makes him receptive to the main body of the conspiracy. For instance you spend a lot of time arguing points that weren't made by people who aren't here... the NRA. But when you're caught at it, it's a strawman... a logical fallacy. For instance, I didn't use the NRA's arguments, nor did I mention them, nor do I care. So though your link is good to illustrate non-disprovability, it doesn't further the discussion. Also, I specifically noted in my OP that blame is not the intriguing and relevant part of this [fictional conspiracy I floated]. In fact, I already noted that this started with Project Gunrunner, so even if there were a "Rube Goldberg type plot" it doesn't matter to THIS discussion, because I hold Obama blameless. Pity.

  5. So what's that leave...? Hmm... "Holder has turned over thousands of documents. He has offered to turn over many more." THERE! THAT'S where you should've provided some corroborating links! But instead of doing that you just assert that it's a "fishing expedition" if Congress were not to simply accept the evidence that's "offered" by the ones being investigated! Most investigators want to look at the stuff that the suspect DOESN'T want to give up, for obvious reasons. And those obvious reasons form the justification for the request. So justification = Yes, not no.

    But I know this... if I'm ever accused of a crime, I want you as my lead investigator because I know you'll be happy with the evidence I choose to provide you. Hopefully you see how completely untenable your position on this is.

    Finally, as noted in the original post and the Wikipedia articles I linked (Executive Privilege, United States v. Nixon), executive privilege is not absolute. The President must offer his justification, and it may be over-ruled, as it was with Clinton in the Lewinsky case or Nixon in Watergate. And one of the valid justifications is NOT "Congress asked for stuff I didn't want to give them". But the "internal deliberations" reason might work out better for Obama than it did for Nixon... it's worth a shot.

    BTW, you could have linked to The Boston Globe: ( This one's great because it gives a number to the "thousands of documents": more than 7,600. But it also gives justification for the additional requests, and notes that your "fishing expedition" is limited to a single topic. Maybe not so good for you after all. I guess if you want to support your argument you'll have to find your own links.

  6. "Conspiracy" is a fun game. It's gaining a lot of popularity. For instance, Nancy Pelosi is playing it. Her latest one is that this investigation is really about suppressing votes. Obviously that one's in the rough stages... it needs a lot of work.

  7. Pelosi's conspiracy theory holds a little more water than Darrell Issa's, or more properly Michael Vanderboegh's theory that Issa has swallowed and parroted, along with FOX NEWS.

    The NRA has held up the fact that Obama has not attacked the Rights of gun owners a PROOF that attacking the Rights of gun owners must be Obama's ultimate goal. Darrell Issa seems to be holding up the lack of proof of wrongdoing as proof that evidence of wrongdoing is being withheld. To me, that makes no sense.

    “Very clearly,” Issa told Fox News, “they made a crisis and they’re using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people’s 2nd Amendment rights.”,0,2379788.story

    Issa honestly believes that Fast and Furious was a MANUFACTURED crisis.

    Have you seen the Obama Administration use Fast and Furious as justification for changing gun laws? No. So, Issa is wrong, lying or blinded by partisanship. And because Issa wasn't given the evidence to support his prejudiced conclusions, he branded Holder a poor witness, a liar and in contempt.