Will the Latest Obama Conspiracy Help Him Win Ohio?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 1 2012 9:24 AM

Will the Latest Obama Conspiracy Help Him Win Ohio?

I'd tried so hard to ignore the latest of the Obama conspiracy theories. As Michelle Goldberg writes, it's "tempting to ignore Dreams From My Real Father because it’s so preposterous." The documentary, by Joel Gilbert, claims that Barack Obama was sired by Frank Marshall Davis -- a bowlderization of Obama's actual relationship with Davis, a Communist poet whom his grandparents sought out as a mentor for the young future president.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Like the best Obama conspiracy theories, the pretense is that the president is hiding something in plain sight. In Dreams From My Father, Obama makes many references to "Frank." The "old poet" tries to convince his mentee that white America will find a pathetic little role for him if he tries to compromise with it. "They'll train you so good," says Davis, "you'll start believing what they tell you about equal opporunity and the American way and all that shit."

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In our reality, Davis was a radical voice who influenced the young Obama. The president's admitted that. In the "Real Father" universe, Davis's hammer-and-sickled DNA turned Barack Obama into a Communist agent, and hey, maybe one of the women in Davis's nude photos was the future president's mom! Never mind that 1) she wasn't, and 2) when Obama Jr was born, Davis was 56 years old, 29 years older than Barack Obama Sr. In the "Real Father" universe, obviously, this guy must have shacked up with 18-year-old Ann Dunham, because if you put a picture of Obama next to one of Davis it looks like a lame version of an old Spy magazine "Separated at Birth" sidebar.

Like I said: The kind of thing you should be able to safely ignore. Except that a mystery donor is helping Gilbert ship DVDs to swing states.

Gilbert claims that more than a million copies of Dreams From My Real Father have been mailed to voters in Ohio, as well between 80,000 and 100,000 to voters in Nevada and 100,000 to voters in New Hampshire.

There's even a video of the DVD being printed en masse, to prove this.

 

Funny thing: The comment section for the video is starting to attract Ohioans who got the DVD and tossed it. "Thanks for the free DVD, moron!" says one of them." I'm passing it around family and friends here in Ohio, and it's like Mystery Science Theater." Says another: "I'm in Ohio and just received 3 of these DVDs in today's mail. And they are going directly in the trash. Well done."

Could hundreds of thousands of Ohioians get these unsolicited DVDs, watch them, and decide that new questions about Barack Obama's DNA make them suddenly hate the auto bailout. Anything's possible! But I'm reminded of another 2004 campaign to convince Ohioans. In 2004, the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper asked readers to send letters to Clark County, the best bellwether in the state of Ohio. It was an unmitigated disaster.

As Jack Bianchi, managing editor of local paper the Springfield News-Sun said of the letters: "At the end of the day you get two responses."
And the main one, he ventured, was a "direct result of the 'Guardian Effect' - a 3% turnaround in the vote from the 2000 to 2004 election.
"Republican party county chairman Dan Harkins thinks they lost it for John Kerry," he told the BBC.
Mr Harkins, however, has said the paper did not cause a xenophobic reaction, but did mobilise people by reminding them of the election's importance. The state enjoyed a higher than normal 76% turnout.

Voters who weren't inclined to agree with the patronizing advice got pissed off and remembered to vote. As my colleague Sasha Issenberg reports in The Victory Lab, any little reminder of an upcoming election is likely to drive up turnout, irrespective of what it says. Imagine the swing voter who likes Obama personally, isn't sure about how to go, and gets a DVD telling him to be scared of the president because his real dad was a Communist. Does that flip him over to Romney? Or does it have the precise opposite effect?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.