Yakking on the Obamaphone

We’ve just mailed yet another check to a phone company for a month’s worth of service, and we’re feeling rather foolish about it. It’s not just that the phone rarely rings around here, and when it does it’s usually some annoying stranger trying to sell us something we have no use for, but because we’ve recently learned that we could have been conducting our occasional telecommunications on an Obamaphone at somebody else’s expense.

This amazing money-saving tip came to us through the miracle of YouTube, where an intrepid independent journalist has posted a short video of a protestor in Cleveland urging her fellow Americans to “keep Obama in president, you know” because “he give us a phone.” The woman, a very nasty piece of work to our thinking, screeches this information with a frightening ferocity, then further explains that “everybody in Cleveland [inaudible] minority got Obamaphone” and that “you sign up if you on food stamps, you on Social Security, you got no income, you disability.” She also adds, with a pithiness rarely heard in contemporary American politics, that “Romney? He sucks, bad.”

The video has “gone viral,” as the internet lingo would have it, with more than two-and-a-half million views, while millions more have heard the audio on various talk radio shows and at conservative web sites. Reaction has mostly been outraged, but we expect that most of the callers and commenters have been the people picking up the tab rather than the ones getting free phone service. Because the former group outnumbers the latter, at least for now, the Obamaphone could pose a political problem for its eponymous president.

Someone at the Obama campaign certainly seems to think so. If you had gone to the government’s obamaphone.net web site the day before the video was posted you would have been greeted with a picture of a smiling Barack Obama making the thumb-and-pinky-out hand-to-the-ear “call me” gesture to such adoring fans as the one featured in the YouTube video, but the day after the posting it was abruptly changed to plain text and now features an oddly incongruous photograph of some Japanese lanterns or a Chinese chess set. They’re still stuck with the self-imposed “Obamaphone” moniker, though, and the tricky business of explaining to the taxpayers of America why they’re footing the bill for this horrible woman’s cell phone service.

The administration’s many defenders in the media have bravely attempted to argue that the Obamaphone program has its roots in legislation dating back to the Reagan era, which is true, but it didn’t start paying for cell phones until the Clinton era and has seen its budget increased from $772 million to $1.6 billion during the Obama era. Those hearty defenders also contend that the program isn’t paid for by taxes, only a surcharge that actual bill-paying phone customers are required by law to pitch in with their monthly bills, but they’re unlikely to convince anyone but the most adamant Obama supporter that money taken by force of government isn’t really a tax.

The woman starring in the viral video is black, so there’s always the old reliable argument that any objection to paying for her cell phone use is stone cold racism. This is the predictable line being peddled at the AtlanticWire site, which contends that the video itself is not racist but that writing about it is. The writer does make a fair point by noting that much less attention has been paid to a video posted by the same journalist featuring an equally appalling white Obama supporter, who makes some wildly inaccurate claims about Mitt Romney’s tax proposals, then admits he hadn’t heard about the murder of America’s ambassador to Libya and shrugs off the news by saying “He probably had it coming,” but if the AtlanticWire truly believes that publicizing this video will help the Obama campaign we are glad to help them out with the project.

Romney’s campaign will likely avoid any mention of the video, lest it provoke the inevitable cries of racism, but having others draw attention to it could help him stave off the voting power of the now-infamous 47 percent. Here’s hoping that the public scrutiny also forces a reform of the Obamaphone program, which is a waste of the public’s money, an inducement to sloth, and has the unhappy effect of making a taxpayer feel like a sucker.

— Bud Norman

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