Mark Steel: The easy view to adopt would be that Americans are just mental
The easy view to adopt would be that we're back to normal, and Americans are just mental. Because the people leading the hatred of Obama are characters such as Glenn Beck, spokesman for the Tea Party. Beck hosts a TV show in which during the last 18 months he's likened Obama to Hitler 349 times.
Every night he must tell viewers that Hitler started out with a healthcare plan, then things spun out of control so he invaded France. But Beck has also said: "Obama has deep-seated hatred for white people and white culture." So that proves the likeness between him and Hitler, because there's nothing which annoyed the Führer more than white people. Adolf 'Black Power' Hitler they called him. At rally after rally he'd thump his fist on a table and yell: "People of Germany, we have let whitey keep us in the ghetto for too long. We must rise up brothers and sisters, and insist Nuremberg is a city where black is beautiful, hallelujah."
But they don't need logic, they just call him whatever they fancy for that day. So he's a fascist, a communist and an Islamic terrorist. Next they'll say he's a radical feminist and a supporter of Josef Fritzl, a pacifist and a suicide bomber, a virgin and a rent boy. Fox News will say: "An expert on reincarnation has revealed that in a previous life President Obama was almost certainly a huge spider. And most damaging of all for the President he was a hairy red-kneed spider which is not found naturally in the US, but is native to Kenya, which could cast doubts over his legitimacy as President."
Then Republicans will appear in soft focus adverts in which they say: "Did you know President Obama has never denied he's planning to put the elderly on mountains naked in the night to see who survives, as part of a sacrifice to his father who's an evil spirit with the face of a wolf? If you care about your parents, vote Republican."
What angers the anti-Obama people, they say, is "government interference in everyday life", although they weren't so perturbed by the previous President's policy of invading places, which could, in certain circumstances, interfere with some people's everyday life. But the collapse in Obama's support can only partly be explained by the vitriol of the Tea Party. Few people seem to have switched from Obama to the Republicans. But most of those who supported him have lost the enthusiasm that brought him to power. This is probably because so much of the change he promised has been abandoned almost without a fight.
Maybe he forgets he's the President. So he watches the news and says: "You know, it's time they shut down that Guantanamo Bay." Then if someone says: "Well do it then, you're the President," he says: "Oh don't be silly, no one's going to take any notice of little old me." It was the same with healthcare. He promised to introduce it, but the health companies objected so he backed down until the scheme was hardly any better than the old one. And the climate change proposals were lost as they were opposed by the oil companies. Because he was like a kindly neighbour knocking at the door of a house where there's a wild party in the middle of the night, saying: "Er excuse me, the carbon emissions, would it be possible for you to keep them down a bit?" The problem isn't just Obama's. It seems to be accepted that for any change to take place, big business has to be brought on board, even if the change is to stop big business swiping billions of dollars or damaging the planet. It's as if no one believed a government could ever bring in a law banning bank robbery, as you'd never get the bank robbers to agree with it.
But Obama could have listened to the health companies, then said: "That's all fascinating, but the thing is, I was elected President and you weren't, so piss off." Otherwise what's the point of having an election at all? What's frustrating is he had another weapon as well as being President. He had mass enthusiasm; he was able to mobilise it for the election, and he could still appeal to it if he seemed willing to take on his opponents. Which must be a better strategy than looking tragically confounded, muttering: "I'm not really Hitler, honest."