Let’s start by saying it’s racial. The Obama Phone video belongs to a genre popular on conservative blogs in which poor people, usually black, confirm conservatives’ worst 47-percent fears by saying they can get something for nothing because Obama’s in office. The message is, “Here’s what Obama’s supporters really look like.”
The standout in the category is “Obama money”: Back in October 2009, big lines formed formed for Detroit housing assistance applications after the city underestimated how many people would show up to apply. The scene was chaotic, and local TV reported there were rumors that $3,000 checks would be handed out.
The meme on rightwing blogs became that it was an angry mob in search of “Obama money.” A Detroit radio station interviewed people in line for “Obama money.” One woman says, “I don’t know where he got it from but he’s giving it to us. … O-BA-MA O-BA-MA!” Rush Limbaugh excerpted the audio, saying, “This is the model citizen in Barack Obama’s vision.”
The problem with ascribing this trope to the video is that as early as June 2010 the phrase had apparently gained so much currency that a government-approved provider gave out the following clarificatory press release. Long before the video, people were looking for “Obama Phones”:
June 24, 2010 — The World Wide Web is full of rumors and wrong information about the term “Obama Phones.” First off and to clear things up once and for all — there is no such thing as an “Obama Phone.” The only thing similar between the term “Obama Phone ” and the current American president is the first name, and the origin of this misconception is still unknown.
What is true is the fact that the Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up America programs have been around since 1984 when the “Universal Service Fund” was created under the Reagan administration. Also the Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up America programs (part of the “Universal Service Fund”) has nothing to do with the “Stimulus Program” of 2009.
Another misconception is that the Universal Service Fund program is a tax paid by U.S. taxpayers. It is not. The Universal Service Fund program is funded from contributions by telecommunications carriers collected in part from the Universal Service Charge applicable to all forms of interstate telecommunication services. The concept of “Universal Service” as it applies to telecommunication services was actually started way back in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt way before World War II.
The information about the program is somewhat different; it is still not President Obama’s invention. But in these descriptions it is a non-taxpayer funded program started by Roosevelt and continued by Reagan! But it was never associated decisively with these past presidents. How did it come to be linked to Obama? Why had it become an eponym, like Xerox or Scotch Tape or Frigidaire?