The Barack Obama FAQ

To my American friends:

It’s two days until your Presidential election, and I’m a little concerned. Sure, the electoral maths – or, in your language, ‘math’ – is suggesting that Barack Obama will be getting a second term, it’s not really the lock that it should be.

And though I may not live in your fair land, I do have a vested interest here. Whilst America isn’t quite the centre of the universe many of its citizens (though probably not you) believe it to be, the rest of us non-American countries do tend to feel the impact of your politics and policies. You know, the War on Terror, the Global Financial Crisis, all the fun stuff.

Although we may not actually get a say in whom you elect, we’d at least like to talk to you about it. And according to this BBC poll, the overwhelming majority of us would really like Obama to win. A lot.

So I thought I’d use the Google Autofill function to find out what’s vexing you guys the most. I’m a little surprised to discover what your ten most frequently asked questions are, but I’m happy to help answer them for you. Here is what you’ve been wondering:

1. Is Barack Obama gay?

No. You’re thinking of Harvey Fierstein. I can see why you’d make that mistake, though. Obama was recently called America’s first gay President, but – and this is key – that was due to his support for gay marriage, rather than a personal predilection for, let’s say, Commander-in-Chief action. Remember, Bill Clinton was called America’s first black President, but very few of Google’s users seem confused by Clinton’s skin colour. (For the record, my book of swatches tells me it’s Flustered Horn Blower.) Now, there would be nothing wrong with Obama being gay, but you guys seem to be Googling it a lot and it’s obviously a concern. Obama earned this title by being the first sitting President to come out in favour of gay marriage. Hey, if we’re lucky, your first actually gay President will be named America’s first time-travelling President, and then you’ll really have something to look forward to. Or back to. It’s entirely possible that Abe Lincoln will be born in 2018 and have an accident with the Large Hadron Collider. I just want you to be prepared for all possibilities.

2. Is Barack Obama a Muslim?

No. You’re thinking of Osama Bin Laden, the terrorist leader with the amusingly-similar name, whom Obama eliminated in the exact same way George W Bush failed to do for two full terms. Again, there’s nothing wrong with Obama being a Muslim, but if you’re after a literal yes/no answer, the answer is no.

3. Is Barack Obama a mason?

No. You’re thinking of James Buchanan, your 15th President, who held office from 1857-1861. (And, for the record, he may well have been America’s first actually-gay President.) I know that everything about Obama, from his unlikely background through to his even-more-unlikely name, makes it sound like he must have had the backing of some super-secret, super-powerful organisation in order to become President in the first place, but my basic understanding of these super-secret, super-powerful organisations it that they’re in place to prevent people like him from becoming President at all, so I think we can call that one a no.

4. Is Barack Obama black?

Yes. You are indeed thinking of Barack Obama in this instance. This is one of those times where the answer is self-evident, so I can only assume that this question has arisen from America’s increasingly-prevalent colour blind population.

5. Is Barack Obama a Christian?

Yes. Two in a row! You’re getting good at this. Yes, Barack Obama is a Christian. And not one of those crazy ones who distorts his religion’s intent in order to justify horrible policies, but one of those reassuringly-lapsed ones who pays lip service to his religion without coming across as being particularly committed to it. Which may sound bad to you if you’re a Born Again, but it’s positively reassuring to the rest of us.

6. Is Barack Obama left-handed?

Yes. Although I had to Google that myself to be sure. Not entirely sure why that’s your sixth biggest concern/query about the most powerful person in your country, but my role is not to judge. Not yet. We’ll get to the judging later.

7. Is Barack Obama a US citizen?

Yes. You know that Constitution thing you have which states that only US citizens can become President? That’s your first clue. Your second is all the overwhelming evidence that he was born in Hawaii, which is a part of your country. So why all the confusion? Well, you’ll need to refer back to question four. The confusion certainly isn’t stemming from the fact that his father was born in another country. After all, Mitt Romney’s father was born in Mexico, and nobody’s braying for Mitt’s long-form birth certificate, are they?

8. Is Barack Obama a communist?

No, you’re thinking of Joseph Stalin. If Obama was a communist, he would have slipped up at some point and revealed his hand, like saying ‘yes’ when someone asked ‘are you a communist?’. If he was a sleeper communist – and I’m assuming that’s a thing – and he was waiting for the right time to strike, surely he would have done so upon becoming President. Really, what’s keeping him? What’s the bigger play here? Is his true plan to create a Maoist Presidential library? If so, the pervasive spread of the Red Menace sure isn’t what is used to be.

9. Is Barack Obama a millionaire?

Yes. Although, impressively, he managed to become one without either inheriting it or acting like a parasitic venture capitalist who refused to reveal most of his tax returns because for fifteen years he wasn’t paying any. Obama’s two books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, sold rather well, and he became a millionaire just before becoming President. And, as a bonus, here are his tax returns stretching back over more than a decade.

10. Is Barack Obama a socialist?

No, you’re thinking of socialists. The thing is, unless you’re prepared to privatise everything – from the army to the police force to disaster relief – you’re probably a teensy bit of a socialist yourself, and that’s no bad thing. The system in America (and, hey, Australia!) has in place a mixture of socialism and capitalism, and a violent lurch to either one would be disastrous. And as someone who lives in a country where a visit to the Emergency Room doesn’t result in crippling debt, I can tell you that taking vital services out of the hands of companies whose primary legal obligation is turning a profit does not impinge on our basic freedoms the way many in your otherwise-lovely country seem to think. But if you’re worried that Obama is trying smother your country in governance and federalism, you should know that George W Bush oversaw the largest increase of government in seven decades. So if you weren’t worried about socialism under Bush, then you’ve really got nothing to worry about from Obama.

I hope that’s helped to clear up some confusion. Now that you have a better understanding of the person you voted in four years ago and who has since been the most prominent figure in the world in that time, I hope you feel that you are informed enough to go out and vote.

Yours anxiously,


Sorkin’s Reality

Aaron Sorkin has come under fire in his career for what his detractors claim is a myopic view of American politics. Ever since the intelligent, likeable, sympathetic Andrew Shepherd in The American President faced off against a darkened room of cigar-puffing Republicans – one of whom, upon finding a photograph that could bring down the Presidency, actually begins to sing ‘It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas’ – it was pretty clear where his political affiliations lay. Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom have also not dissuaded us of his liberal sensibilities, and yet each of those shows have all at least featured intelligent, likeable, sympathetic Republicans espousing Republican views in a convincing manner.

Sad to say, his latest project has lost all objectivity.

In the United States of America’s 2012 election, Aaron Sorkin has thrown his remaining modicum of bipartisanship out the window. His Democratic characters (Barack Obama, Joe Biden, The Clintons) are eloquent and virtuous, while his Republican characters (Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Boehner) no longer hold bear any resemblance to reality.

Warning bells should have gone off when he introduced the Republican nomination plotline. His list of improbable candidates included the Bible-bashing Rick Santorum, the arch-conservative Michelle Bachman, the drawling gasbag Newt Gringrich, the poorly-disguised George W Bush callback Rick Perry, and, in an effort to appear even-handed, the Democrat-in-Republican-clothing Jon Huntsman.

It was a lazy field of candidates, made even lazier when Sorkin eventually went with the most predictable candidate of the lot: square-jawed millionaire Mitt Romney. In order to make Romney comply with Sorkin’s one-dimensional concept of modern Republicans, Romney was ret-conned from a progressive moderate into a mealy-mouthed, pro-life, anti-healthcare spokescliché. Sorkin had altered characters in the past to suit current storylines, but he’d never made any changes approaching this level of absurdity.

At the same time, he was clearly struggling with his portrayal of Obama. Clearly attempting to handicap him in some believable manner, Sorkin – rather than having him make a campaign-halting gaff, or reveal some sort of personal demon – simply took a reasonable statement and worded it in such a manner so that an out-of-context sentence could be cherry-picked as an example of his inferred socialism. It was a pretty long bow to draw, and Sorkin’s Republican stereotypes lapped it up, wilfully misinterpreting it so it would become what to them was the defining moment of the campaign. The mere idea that Sorkin would consider something so benign and easily-explainable as a satisfactory portrayal Obama’s biggest stumble reflects an extremely low opinion of the conservative electorate.

In fairness, his portrayal of the American media holds more focus. Rather than deifying Obama’s achievements – or even recollecting them – the media frequently criticises him for taking too much credit for the death of Osama Bin Laden; he is lambasted for a fairly straightforward healthcare plan that would bring America up to global first world standards; every diplomatic interaction is painted as ‘apologising for America’. Even if none of Sorkin’s politicians are believable, the media and citizens sure are.

Look, I’m a long-time fan of Sorkin. I was a stringent defender of the election, and when critics pointed to recurring characters like Sarah Palin as proof that he couldn’t write intelligent female characters, even after established that they’d risen to great political heights, I’d go to pains to point out the similar flaws in endless male characters. I was on the front line, standing up for Sorkin’s writing, and confidently telling anyone who’d listen that he surely had something big up his sleeve.

But then we came to the conventions.

The Republican National Convention was a complete joke, and any Republican watching would surely have taken umbrage at its depiction. There was the parroting of the warped ‘You didn’t build that’ line. There was Romney’s policy-devoid speech. There was the shameful Clint Eastwood parody, in which the filmmaking legend was portrayed as a bumbling old man speaking to an empty chair for fifteen minutes. (In Sorkin’s defence, this came after Clint Eastwood had directed 2010’s Hereafter, so it wasn’t a huge stretch to buy this sudden turn for the senile.)

Even if you could forgive any of that rubbish, the following week he showed us the Democratic National Convention, and in typical Sorkin style, returning character Bill Clinton gave one of those standard electrifying speeches. As with all characters in Sorkin Fantasy Land, the crowd and the country were all roused by an eloquent statesman spouting a barrage of facts and figures. Keep dreaming, Aaron.

Normally I can let this stuff go, as Sorkin’s sparkling dialogue heals all wounds, but this week he has stepped way over the line. And I’m not even talking about Rick Santorum’s claim that the Republican party will never win over ‘smart people’, allowing liberal subtext to spill into actual text. No, it was his depiction of Mitt Romney that truly slipped into liberal absurdism. In a leaked video, Romney is caught telling his supporters that he’s essentially written off 47% of the country; not just their vote, but their basic value as human beings. He makes no bones about considering them to be entitled, dependent victims. I mean, how do you write a character who accuses the poor of not paying taxes as he himself keeps funds in off-shore accounts and refuses to release more than a single year’s tax returns? How do you that and look at yourself in the mirror? To Sorkin’s credit, he stopped just short of having Romney twirl a moustache as he tied Sandra Fluke to a railway track.

It shouldn’t be hard to write a believable, sympathetic Republican character. In the past, Sorkin has had conservatives such as Ainsley Hayes, Joe Quincy and Cliff Calley (The West Wing), Harriet Hayes (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Will McAvoy (The Newsroom) making complex, multi-faceted arguments on topics such as the economy, healthcare, the role of government, abortion, defence, international relations, states rights, welfare, you name it. These characters sounded intelligent, and you could actually believe that they’d risen to some level of prominence within politics or the media.

His latest crop holds none of this believability. If Mitt Romney is going to continue to be a caricatured, out-of-touch implausible character, then I guarantee the audience is going get fed up with him pretty damn soon.