Have you met Barack X? He's the candidate that the political right has invented in a bid to win back the White House: a fictional president with no decipherable religion and questionable loyalties.
HBO's Bill Maher described Barack X last month during the "New Rules" segment of his talk show, when he skewered the laughable link that conservative Newt Gingrich tried to make between the mid-20th-century, Chicago-born community organizer Saul Alinsky and President Obama. As Maher clarified, the president was 10 years old when Alinsky died, and the only thing the two men have in common is that they both "liked black people."
The lies that have characterized right-wing attacks on this nation's first African-American president have ranged from depictions of him as Hitler to the outlandish claims at recent Republican-primary debates that Obama voted for infanticide.
Rick Santorum — who doesn't want to make "blah" people's lives better and refuses to accept women's contraceptive rights — is convinced that the president is guided by some new "phony theology" not based on Christianity. Santorum also believes the president is a "snob" who dares encourage American youths to attend college.
Mitt Romney, who unwittingly admitted in a radio interview with Laura Ingraham that "of course the economy is getting better," has been performing his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act on the primary stump, with accusations that Obama's policies have "made the economy worse."
On any given Sunday, conservative pundits from Fox News to MSNBC can be found regurgitating lies as fact. Obama is either a radical secret Muslim or a secular socialist, hell-bent on destroying capitalism. He is painted either as an inexperienced community organizer — who ought to show his college transcript — or as a Harvard elite who, Santorum claimed, "thinks he's smarter than you."
The cognitive dissonance inherent in these fallacies is appalling at best and offensive at worst, especially when you consider that they are formulated by elected officials and political operatives who claim to love their country.
From the hand on the heart as "The Star-Spangled Banner" plays to the strategically placed lapel flag pin, Republicans have mastered the art of smoke screen politics, positioning themselves as the true patriots from "the real America." Anyone who is not in their camp is painted as the opposite: an outsider who can't be trusted.
E.J. Dionne Jr., the award-winning Washington Post columnist, recently addressed this phenomenon in a piece titled, "President Obama as an Alien": "Whatever our president is, he is never allowed to be a garden-variety American who plays basketball and golf, has a remarkably old-fashioned family life and, in the manner we regularly recommend to our kids, got ahead by getting a good education."
What is it about this man, whose life has followed a classic, all-American trajectory — raised by a struggling single mother, yet managed to attend Harvard, marry well and raise two beautiful children — that so unsettles the conservative establishment? Why are they invested in his failure and demise?
Racism seems wholly insufficient an answer. Politics is power and money realized. Today's GOP is playing a long game. Race-baiting is simply a tactic and means to greater end: namely, keys to the White House.
On Nov. 4, 2008, black, brown and white alike, Democrat and Republican, all celebrated the realization of the American dream. Particularly poignant was the reality that Barack and Michelle's story could only be achieved here, in America.
But the dream quickly proved a mirage. The backlash became so insidious after Obama took office that it raises questions about the intent at the heart of the vile character assassinations being waged against him.
Of course, receiving criticism is par for the course for any president. It is only fair to point out former House Speaker Gingrich's call for Bill Clinton's impeachment, or left-wing accusations that George W. Bush masterminded 9/11. But at no point were these men framed as un-American or anti-American. No one questioned their birthplace, religion or national loyalty. No one yelled, "You lie" from either side of the chamber.
It is these dark imaginings about Obama, thrust onto our political consciousness by a power-driven GOP, that have brought the nonsensical attitudes that feed anti-Obama sentiment.
Perhaps Republicans need to distort and conflate because running against Obama's real record would only highlight his ability to successfully steer a struggling economy, save a near-bankrupt automobile industry and manage foreign policy challenges with maturity and precision.
The invented "Barack X" is easier to run against.
With an increasingly ill-informed electorate inundated with the GOP's dogma, the party plans to combine that ignorance with super PAC funds and a strategic attack on voter-registration laws. Disenfranchisement, by consent of the governed, is the intended pathway. No trick is too dirty, and playing on old stereotypes (using race and religion as fodder) is the preferred tactic.
GOP claims that Obama is all about raising taxes are belied by his recent signing of yet another extension of the payroll-tax cut.
Gingrich's "greatest food stamp president" attack has been sufficiently disproven: Department of Agriculture data show that that title belongs to George W. Bush.
Romney's incessant attacks on Obama's handling of the economy are undermined by nearly two years of recovery. The much-touted lie that Obama is "destroying American jobs" has been answered with 3.7 million new jobs added in 23 months of net job growth.
Gingrich claimed that the president is "dangerous on foreign policy," but facts tell a story of achievement, culminating in the execution of public enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden, and a skillfully orchestrated coalition to defeat Egypt's Mubarak and Libya's Qaddafi.
Obama kept his promise to end the war in Iraq and has announced an early exit from Afghanistan.
The farcical antics of comedy have met the body politic, and the Republican strategy can be summed up in the Seinfeld phrase: "It's not a lie if you believe it."
No, Barack Obama is not perfect. But his record can be challenged without him being undermined.
As president, he was presented with incredible challenges, and he answered with complicated, largely effective solutions. Obama is not a radical. And you don't need to travel to Kenya or a Gingrich-established moon colony to understand him.
The Obama-Biden re-election campaign recently launched a "truth team" in order to challenge right-wing claims. With so much work to be done, my hope is that American voters will look at the president's real record and arrive at the polls with proper identification.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.