Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was an exercise in wish-fulfillment. The junior senator from Illinois who wowed Democrats at their convention in 2004 did not make a conventional run for the White House. As Virginia Postrel noted in Reason's November 2008 issue, "Barack Obama has not run as the typical candidate, selling specific policies, a worldview, experience, or executive competence. He has instead sold himself, a glamorous icon onto whom supporters project their hopes and dreams and, in many cases, their own identities." What many political observers referred to as charisma, Postrel identified as glamour. The last three years have supported her interpretation; a charismatic president can stir people to follow him, a glamorous one faces difficulty every time the spell is broken. Nevertheless, as we approach the 2012 election, some of Barack Obama's supporters continue to attribute political positions to him that he just doesn't hold. Here are four.
4. Barack Obama's foreign policy is not as destructive as George W. Bush's was (or Mitt Romney's would be).
During his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama leveraged his outspoken opposition to the Iraq War (while in the Illinois State Senate) to appeal to anti-war voters. To hear Mitt Romney tell it, Obama's foreign policy hasn't been sufficiently militaristic. This while a list of presidential accomplishments recently released by a Democratic group is riddled with the people killed while Obama has been commander in chief. Even as Joe Biden is calling Mitt Romney's foreign policy weak, and mocking the sensible sounding idea of "subcontract[ing] our foreign policy to some expert at the State Department" (as opposed to the CIA or DoD, Joe?), the left continues to portray Romney as being more neo-conservative than Obama, the very president that neo-con leader Bill Kristol has claimed as one of his own. The truth is Romney would probably fit right in with Obama's cabinet when it comes to making foreign policy decisions, and Obama's foreign policy itself is a natural extension of President George W. Bush's.
3. Barack Obama's immigration policies are compassionate and humane.
Obama's pro-immigration reform supporters were already growing disenchanted with Obama when he announced temporary relief for some young people threatened by deportation. While the move is expected to help thousands of people begin to normalize their legal status in the country, it comes as part of a broader approach from this president that has included record-breaking deportations rates and resistance to detention reform. Nevertheless, the "temporary stop gap measure" may have been enough to renew enthusiasm for Obama among Latinos and other pro-immigration voters, even while the unilateral action by the president makes efforts to pass immigration reform in Congress that much harder. Nor did Obama spend any political capital on immigration reform early in his presidency, even though Democrats held both chambers at the time, with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
2. Obama's support for gay marriage is groundbreaking.
When President Obama came out last month and staked a position on same-sex marriage that, as critics noted, Dick Cheney held back in 2004, it was nonetheless heralded as a grand moment in the gay rights struggle. Newsweek even dubbed Obama America's "first gay president," burying James Buchanan deeper into the nation's historical closet. What did Obama do to earn such accolades from supporters? Although he voiced support for same-sex marriage early in his political career, as president Obama waited until the day after North Carolina voters amended their Constitution to prohibit same-sex unions before telling ABC News about his personal support for gay marriage. While the president has instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, both the president and his aides have indicated that Obama sees gay marriage as an issue best left up to the states. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, on the other hand, supports the right to gay marriage on a federal level.
1. Barack Obama will end the war on drugs, eventually.
This is the most pervasive and consistent fantasy about former pot-smoker Barack Obama espoused by his supporters. MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell went so far as to say that Obama legalizing drugs after the election is the "204th reason to vote for President Obama." While Mitt Romney might be the kind of neighbor to tell you to extinguish your joint on the beach, Barack Obama is the kind of president that doesn't understand the economic benefit of marijuana legalization and, more important, who has ramped up federal raids on medical marijuana clinics operating legally under state law, whose government seeks life sentences for medical marijuana dispensary owners whose activities are too profitable, and who refuses to allow any discretion in the execution of a deadly and never ending drug war. Obama is a drug warrior, plain and simple.