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September 4, 2011

Tea Party Mans the Swift Boat: Obama As Angry, Bobbling, “Uncle Slam”

Obama Uncle Sam bobblehead

As the Tea Party moves into place as the far-right’s 2012 Swift Boat posse, it’s already testing various lines of attack on Obama. One we think could be effective is embodied in the simple caricature above on sale at a recent Tea Party Express rally.

Where Obama presented himself in ‘08 as a symbol of optimism, hope and effectiveness (“Yes, we can”), the Tea Party — without resorting to religion or racism, by the way — is adapting some of Obama’s less flattering, but demonstrated personality characteristics to drive home an opposite picture.

Although it hasn’t received as much focus as the perpetually- (some would argue, terminally-)bipartisan and conciliatory Obama, what the American people have also witnessed, on the flip side, is the angry and disappointed Obama, the one who lashes out at the uncompromising opposition by comparing GOP leaders to his daughters. What the doll does, while fully granting Obama his patriotism and the identity of the father figure, is to take the persona of “the only grownup in the room” — a net positive (and one which doomed McCain), and nails Obama with it.

Holding the father role over Obama’s head, the bobbleheaded epitome of government is characterized as a complainer with a superiority complex. Combine that with the also-clever labeling of Obama this week by the Republicans as “President Zero” (coupling August’s zero employment gains to the charge that Obama can’t deliver) and the irritated and angry expressions we see out of Obama (illustrated recently by the “they left me at the alter” line or his “Frustrated” blast email) only reinforces the subtext behind the doll that “Yes, we can!” is really “No Can Do,” with the President overly inclined, in the face of the nation’s problems, to complain, wag that finger and blame someone else for it.

(photo: Jim Young/Reuters. caption: A U.S. President Barack Obama doll is seen for sale at a rally for the Tea Party Express in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, September 1, 2011. The organization is on their 5th national bus tour making stops in 29 cities and ending in Florida on September 12.)

  • Anonymous

    Don’t get it. This doll is an ironic/sarcastic reworking of this? To what end?

    The original is an appeal to individuals to voluntarily put country over self. The deal Uncle Sam offers the target young man is this: in exchange for your cooperation I’ll treat you like shit, pay you like shit, and you might get killed in the process. What do you say? Of course two generations of young American men said “Where do I sign up?”. (Two generations of white young American men for the record.)

    So how does this connect to America 2011? 

    • Anonymous

      I do see the original Flagg poster as a stern call to duty, the bobblehead as a stern scolding — a black man scolding white men and women. I’ll have to reflect on where those feelings come from.

      I used to do a presentation for students in my Image and Identity class featuring posters from WW I and WW II. Earlier, Americans were asked voluntarily to sacrifice and help pay for the war through purchasing bonds. Now? It’s all going on the national credit card.

      Couple of related images are attached.

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  • Enoch Root

    Yah, this doesn’t make much sense. Are the tea partiers now saying that Uncle Sam is a net negative? Obama wants YOU… to eat your peas?

    If this is what passes for politics today (and it does), then we’re doomed.

  • Anonymous

    Father figure? Superiority complex? Finger-waving complainer? You got all that out of this bobble-head?

    What I see is a caricature of the president with exaggerated black features and a ‘Yes-suh, Massuh’ nod. Much like the blaring “ZERO JOBS CREATED IN AUGUST” banners which might, in a friendlier climate, have read “JOBS HOLD STEADY IN AUGUST,” the inclination which led you to label this doll effective might, in a friendlier climate, have led you to label it a racist piece of crap.

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