Barack Obama has been campaigning for reelection as a reasonable man, a common-sense leader with a steady hand. His stated goals for a second term in office are modest and centrist, if a bit vague on the specifics: create jobs, improve infrastructure, fight global warming.
Of course, that’s just one Barack Obama. Then there’s the other one—the one his campaign won’t be telling you about. This other Obama has plans. Secret plans.
For starters, he’s going to dismantle the Second Amendment. According to Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, the president is overseeing a “very real, very dangerous conspiracy of public deception,” which centers on a scheme to “lull gun owners into a false sense of security, and play us for fools in the 2012 election.” This Obama is also planning to take over hundreds of thousands of acres of private property and turn it over to the federal government, blocking the American public from access to the country’s natural resources. On the foreign policy front, he has hatched a plan to transform America into an Islamic nation by bringing tens of millions of Muslims into the country. And according to a book to be published next month, he plans to reduce funding for the Army, and then use what’s left of it to combat global warming and poverty.
On the fringes of American politics, on conservative radio, and even on the campaign trail, a whole parallel Obama has emerged over the course of the 2012 race—a shadowy figure who has craftily concealed his ideological extremism and is merely awaiting his second term to unleash it. Taken as a whole, this other Obama—and what you might call his “Muahahaha strategy” of post-election bait and switch—offers a vivid picture of the fears that the president has inspired in some critics, fears that appear only to have grown during a real-life first term that has failed to produce much in the way of radical legislation.
As fanciful as they may sound, these rumors reflect something real in the nation’s political imagination—and shine a light on the particular kind of distrust that tends to accumulate around those in power. And they’re also seeping into mainstream political discourse, even into the race itself. Mitt Romney has invoked the issue of Obama’s secret intentions, telling a group of newspaper editors recently that Obama “doesn’t want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or with the press,” and that it was up to journalists to make him come clean. “His intent is on hiding; you and I are going to have to do the seeking,” Romney said. “He wants us to reelect him so we can find out what he’ll actually do.”
Accusing one’s political opponents of harboring secret plans has a rich tradition in American politics. In 1800, according to David Mark, the author of “Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning,” supporters of Thomas Jefferson suggested that rival John Adams secretly wanted to reinstate the British monarchy. Sixty years later, Southern politicians pressed for secession from the Union in part because they believed that president-elect Abraham Lincoln had a secret agenda not to stop slavery’s expansion, as he claimed, but to abolish it entirely.
But in modern times, no presidential candidate has been accused of keeping more secret plans in his back pocket than Obama. Part of it is rooted in suspicion of his strange name and his ethnic background, of course, but it’s more than that. The speed of his ascent to national fame, his early days as a hipster in New York, even the fact that he may or may not be sneaking cigarettes outside the Oval Office, have all combined to fuel a frothy, nightmarish vision of a comic-book-style supervillain: frightening, fascinating, and very good at hiding things.
So what are the top items on Obama’s secret agenda, and where did they come from? To try to find out the full story is to take a tour of some of the more freewheeling corners of conservative journalism, and also to glimpse just how differently a policy can look if you tilt it a certain way.
Take our guns. Perhaps the most widely circulated theory about Obama’s secret intentions is that he’s going to go after the rights of gun owners and eventually abolish the Second Amendment. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre has called it a “silent but sophisticated long-term conspiracy,” warning NRA members that a second Obama term would bring “a full-scale, sustained, all-out campaign to excise the Second Amendment from our Bill of Rights through legislation, litigation, regulation, executive orders, judicial fiat, international treaties—in short, all the levers of power of all three branches of government.”
Asked to elaborate, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam emphasized in an interview that gun-rights activists do have every reason to fear Obama, given his record as a senator and his three years as president, during which he has appointed two antigun justices to the Supreme Court and backed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. He also echoed a recently popular theory on the right: that the Department of Justice’s botched “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking operation was really an effort to bolster support for antigun legislation. As for the actual long-term plan that Lapierre has alluded to, Arulanandam declined to be specific, returning instead to Obama’s existing record. “Who knows what he’s cooking up?” he said.
Rebrand 9/11. One secret White House plot that has yet to be realized has to do with an attempt to change Sept. 11 from a day reserved for memorializing those who died in the terrorist attacks into a “celebration of ethanol, carbon emission controls, and radical community organizing.” This plan was first outlined in an August 2009 report published by The American Spectator under the headline “Obama’s Plan to Desecrate 9/11.” Written by Matthew Vadum, a conservative watchdog who investigates left-leaning advocacy groups, the article cited a source who had participated in a “White House-sponsored teleconference call” during which representatives of 60 “far-left, environmentalist, labor, and corporate shakedown groups” discussed the need to transform 9/11 from something that “helps Republicans” into something new. Vadum reported that the Obama administration was collaborating with a number of organizations, including the community activist group ACORN, on a “cynical, coldly calculated political effort to erase the meaning of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks from the American psyche and convert Sept. 11 into a day of leftist celebration and statist idolatry.”
Vadum described the plot last year in his book “Subversion, Inc.,” which outlined the numerous ways Obama was using ACORN as a secret army to enact his national goals. The group is now defunct, and in an interview last week, Vadum said he believes the 9/11 proposal has become less of a priority, as he has not come across any mention of it recently.
Nationalize the land. That Obama wants to expand the federal government is, of course, a central plank of the conservative case against him. What is less well appreciated is that he literally wants to increase the amount of America the federal government owns, in a deliberate effort to shift natural resources out of the hands of private citizens. For a number of conservative activists— most prominently Brian Sussman, a conservative radio host and author of “Eco-Tyranny: How the Left’s Green Agenda Will Dismantle America”—the smoking gun came in the form of an internal discussion paper from the Bureau of Land Management. The document, now available online, seems to have been chiefly addressing new protections for land already under the bureau’s management, but it also looks at ways to knit federal lands together—and in that, Sussman detected a deeper ambition to nationalize potentially high-value private property. “It’s a wild plan to take over through a number of means either outright purchases, or eminent domain where necessary,” hundreds of thousands, or even millions of acres of private land, he said in a phone interview.
The speed of Obama’s ascent to national fame, his early days as a hipster in New York, even the fact that he may or may not be sneaking cigarettes outside the Oval Office, have all combined to fuel a frothy, nightmarish vision of a comic-book-style supervillain.
The motive? A straightforward ideological commitment to the Marxist belief that private companies should not profit from natural resources. “Marx wrote extensively about that, and he believed that all the resources belonged to the state,” Sussman said.
BUILD A more Muslim union. The most distressing “secret plan” that has surfaced in recent memory—with the possible exception of a 2009 report in Weekly World News that Obama intended to temporarily cancel all federal holidays except Christmas, the Fourth of July, and Martin Luther King’s birthday—is the one being promulgated by Avi Lipkin, an American-born Israeli who writes (sometimes under the pen name Victor Mordecai) and gives lectures about what he sees as the “global threat” presented by Islamism. According to Lipkin’s theory, explained in a YouTube video that has been viewed almost 3.5 million times, Obama is plotting to turn America into a Muslim country by between 50 million and 100 million Muslims relocating from the Middle East. Citing both Arabic-language radio broadcasts and sources who claim to have spoken to Obama directly, Lipkin also believes the president is secretly a Muslim himself, and has a plan to “turn against Israel” as soon as he is reelected. “When he says ‘change’,” Lipkin said in an interview, “he means ‘change from Judeo-Christianity to Islamism.’”
The rest of the story. And that may be the small stuff, to judge by “Fool Me Twice: Obama’s Shocking Plans for the Next Four Years Exposed” a forthcoming book by Aaron Klein, a reporter at the right-wing website World Net Daily, and author Brenda J. Elliott. Their book, slated for publication next month, outlines dozens of other plans that—per the press release—“the president and his progressive backers do not want disclosed to the American public.” Among other things, Obama intends to add millions of people to the federal payroll with a 21st century update of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration. He also plans to take over the military budget and then redirect the US armed forces to fight global warming and injustice around the world.
It’s not hard to see in this shadow agenda the same unprocessed anxiety that some voters felt about Obama when he was first running for president: that behind his cool and unflappable public veneer lie a secret identity and a deep-seated allegiance to radical causes. It’s an anxiety that was stoked earlier this year when he declared his support for gay marriage after years of insisting that his views on the matter were “evolving,” and when he told Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, without realizing there was a live mic near him, that he would have “more flexibility” after the November election to play ball on a missile defense system in Europe.
But the most significant reason why there have been so many theories about Obama’s radical second-term plans may be rooted in something less intuitive: namely, that his first term, so far, has turned out to be surprisingly—that is, suspiciously—moderate. And while the president’s most ardent critics on the right may disagree, the fact is his approach to foreign policy has been downright hawkish, while his signature domestic policy achievement to date is a health care plan whose most controversial provision was originally hatched by a conservative think tank.
For his most vocal detractors, that can only mean one thing: He’s been deliberately prudent, so as to save up his political capital for when he no longer has to worry about reelection. The less evidence of his radicalism, in other words, the stronger the case that he is, in fact, hiding something. Michael Pfau, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth who studies conspiracy theory rhetoric, has named this phenomenon the “paradox of absence.”
“Conspiracy theories tend to have a self-sealing quality to them,” Pfau said. “Even if you can provide evidence that a conspiracy is not real, or that the alleged conspirators are behaving counter to predictions by the conspiracists, it’s often met with, ‘Well, that just shows how tricky they are.’”
While it is mainly the right that is attacking Obama, of course, the belief in a secret agenda is not entirely limited to one edge of the political spectrum. After all, in 2008, fervent progressives marched proudly to their polling places and voted for a man they believed represented hope and change like no other presidential candidate ever had. Four years of cautiously moderate policy and political compromise later, they’re about to head back to the booths, with dim but flickering hope that the idealistic liberal they felt such kinship with four years ago will start to show the potential they imagined. What they’re hoping for, just as their counterparts on the right dread it, is that Barack Obama will cast off the chains of centrism and finally act, with unapologetic purpose, on his true beliefs.
Meanwhile, Obama himself has stayed relatively quiet on the subject of his intentions. “He’s said very little about what his second term would be like if there is one,” said David Mark. This is not unusual, he added—incumbents, especially, don’t typically spend a lot of time making promises about the future, because talking about their past achievements is more effective. “Also,” Mark said, “they often just haven’t thought it out that much.”Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.