In his memoir Fear No Evil, Jewish Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky recounts the mind games the KGB played with him as they tried to entrap him in “confessions” of treason. What allowed Sharansky to survive was his ability to anticipate their moves in a game that began with transparent lies from his government, ones he recognized from kindergarten.
This month, as evidenced by the release of a photo supposedly showing the president engaged in skeet-shooting, we have similar mind games being played by the Obama administration and with all the sophistication of junior high school intrigues.
They seemed to be following orders, specifically a taunting tweet from David Plouffe on Saturday, February 2: “Attn skeet birthers. Make our day — Let the photoshop conspiracies begin!” A few minutes later, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted, “For all the skeeters: POTUS shoots clay target on the range at Camp David.”
Both tweets linked to the official photo accompanied by the warning: ”This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.”
Amazingly, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Black at the Washington Post excused such preemptive pettiness as a necessity in today’s age of social media and claimed: “While Obama and his inner circle pride themselves on their lack of drama and their tendency not to overreact to the political winds that buffet Washington … they have repeatedly shown a keen awareness of and concern for issues that would have likely been considered beneath most past administrations.”
But both ringmasters, Plouffe and Pfeiffer, were off the mark in conjuring up reactions from “right-wingers.” Most of the comments did not question whether the photo was a fake. Rather, experienced skeet-shooters questioned Obama’s claim in the New Republic about doing this “all the time.” They critiqued the positioning of the shotgun, the level aim, and compared his amateurish stance to that when he threw out the first pitch at the World Series dressed in “mom jeans.” Obama did not take up Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn’s challenge to a skeet shoot.
These Americans also defied the orders against altering the photo, to the delight of my immigrant heart. I happened to be reading Sharansky that day and recalled a trip back to Marshall Tito’s Yugoslavia as a kid, when my father asked my uncles in a very low tone about the government — was there any more freedom than before we had emigrated? They evaded the question.
My international students tell me that mocking their leader can land them in jail. I had become discouraged watching fellow Americans meekly subject themselves to body searches for the privilege of boarding a plane. And I dread visits to a doctor’s office in the future when I am likely to be given the quality of care that I’ve come to expect at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
But on this occasion, a veritable artistic renaissance of American ingenuity sprang up on my Facebook page. Using Photoshop, red-blooded Americans who are insulted by Obama’s attempts to infringe on their First and Second Amendment rights put Obama in series of poses that gave the lie to the official image of manliness. Obama was given a pair of shapely female legs in hot pants, in pastel patterned underwear, and a bright pink tutu. He was shown in the Beverly Hillbillies truck with a shotgun. He was shown with Elmer Fudd. His shotgun was made into a Nerf gun. He was shown shooting the Constitution, straight ahead and not high in the air as one would with skeet shooting (as I’ve learned).
There is still a segment of the American population that will not comply with the kind of order that is demanded by petty dictators who are incapable of commanding respect in other ways.
Obama, the quintessential metrosexual, has been as careful as Vladimir Putin to project an image of command, from the jaunty run on the steps of Air Force One, to the overly crisp military salute, to the affected steely gaze, to the decisive end to sentences (skewered on Saturday Night Live). He began his campaign with Roman columns, after all.
Of course, Obama has complicit media like the above-mentioned outlets, as well as the New York Times, which did an extensive pre-election profile about how Obama personally selects the targets for drone attacks. This comes after campaigning on the fact that he had killed Osama bin Laden.
And then there was the false machismo when he came to Susan Rice’s aid on the Benghazi lies.
Obama had a “truth team” — a concept that appeals to the ignorant and largely illiterate masses of graduates from government schools who have never read Orwell or heard about “dissidents.” And in all seriousness, an MSNBC host claimed that the boorish president was due “deference” from his opponent Mitt Romney during the debates.
So where will we go from here? Will we succumb?
Or will we borrow strategies from those who lived under communist regimes (like Oleg Atbashian at the People’s Cube)? Will we continue the proud tradition of mocking those who most deserve it, such as those who use their henchmen to mock the American people?
In these times, the thought occurs that the federal government is tracking all those who post and re-post altered photos of the president. Certainly, through his executive orders along with a cowed Republican party, he has chipped away at Americans’ Constitutional rights and ignored his oath to uphold the law (as in the Defense of Marriage Act, border security, etc.). With most of the Republican representatives and senators capitulating, perhaps we have only one known weapon left, as did those living under the Soviet regime: humor.
Immigrants from former communist countries were shocked and dismayed by the election of Barack Obama. Now with this unprecedented warning accompanying the release of photos, we see his strategy going one step further — a preemptive attempt to silence his “enemies.”
Will we allow him? We are at a crossroads. Such photo-op releases — like those of Russian President Vladimir Putin bare-chested outdoors on horseback — with strategically timed taunts and warnings, as well as claims to having a “truth team,” are signs of desperation.
The way to expose this desperation is through mockery. After all, the White House began — in typical fashion — with a preemptive mocking of Americans.
Our strategy seems to have worked. The sophisticates at the Washington Post and Daily Beast only knew Plouffe and Pfeiffer’s story, and they were sticking to it. There has been no statement from a White House “truth team” regarding the veracity of the president going skeet-shooting in a pink tutu.