The Great Obama Phone Deception
Anyone not living under a rock remembers how the Republicans tried to make the so-called “Obama Phone” a campaign issue in 2012. According to the tightie righties, President Obama was giving free phones to welfare recipients to gain their votes.
In reality, President Obama had nothing to do with it. The “Lifeline” program was started in 1984 during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The Reagan administration believed, correctly, that jobless people would find it next to impossible to find a job if they did not have a phone number to put on a job application. It was and is a good idea.
The program was expanded during the Clinton administration. Wireless service was added during the administration of George W. Bush.
Technically, it’s not a government-funded program. The telephone companies make payments to a fund administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, a nonprofit corporation that dates back to 1934. Anyone with a phone bill chips in through a surcharge on their service.
Tea Party Conservatives and other members of the far-right decided they could turn this useful program against President Obama by doing what they do so well: Ignore the facts and turn it into propaganda. In other words, lie.
Lifeline became Obama phone. Then they spread their deceitful tale on social media, knowing 99.9 percent of the recipients wouldn’t bother to fact-check the story on Snopes.com and would eagerly pass it along to all 2,849 of their closest friends on Facebook. Within hours, millions of wing nuts would be foaming at the mouth. A propaganda pyramid scheme Joseph Goebbels would be proud to call his own.
Social media was just the beginning. There is also talk radio, 95 percent of which is controlled by right-wingers. Here is a partial transcript from the Rush Limbaugh Show.
RUSH: Peter in Rochester, New York. Great to have you on the program, how are you, sir?
CALLER: Rush, I wanted to give your millions and millions of listeners a heads up as to what we’re up against. I’m a doctor in Upstate New York here, and I was seeing a patient in a room and the patient said to me: “Can you hand me my Obama phone?” So I said, “What?”
RUSH: I think I know where you’re going here. I think I’ve heard this, go ahead.
CALLER: Well, I had not heard of that. And so I asked, “What’s that?” And he said, “This is a free cell phone for poor people and we get minutes and everything.” So that was all the conversation I had with him. But it occurred to me that if these Obama phones are going out all over the country —
RUSH: They are.
CALLER: — then would it be hard to believe that there’s going to be text messages and phone calls and all kinds of things?
RUSH: No. In fact, let me give you a shocking statistic. I read this just this week. Obama has 27 million Facebook friends, followers. Romney has 1.8 million. The Twitter numbers are not as large. But the supremacy by the Obama campaign on those social sites is overwhelming. And with these Obama phones, of course they can send texts out. Absolutely they can. They probably do. But the same thing happens if you follow Obama on Twitter or Facebook. It’s not to say that everybody following Obama is a lap dog, eager beaver, can’t get enough of Obama, but that’s how many people have signed up and there’s always varying degrees of interest. Everybody following me on Facebook is rabid, for example, but they’re not that way for Obama. We first heard about these Obama phones, I was shocked, just like you are when you discovered it, last year sometime, and I had no idea. And you’re right, these people get minutes. It’s all paid for. The phone is paid for. The usage is paid for. By us.
CALLER: Around election time I’m wondering what kind of messages are going to be going out, “Meet at such and such a place. Come here get a carton of cigarettes and we’ll take you to the polls,” blah, blah, blah.
RUSH: I think your imagination is the only boundary limit.
CALLER: (laughing) Oh, God.
RUSH: I do. However they could use this. And that’s a good catch. Did you talk to this guy about it at all? Did you just let it drop?
CALLER: No, I let it drop.
RUSH: He asked you to hand him his Obama phone?
CALLER: Yeah, I was talking to him, and in the context of his medical care he was going to need to make a phone call to family. So he asked me to hand him the Obama phone.
RUSH: Let me just tell you. Here are the details of this. There’s a website, ObamaPhone.net. I’m going to read to you: “The Obama Phone Program. What exactly is the free Obama phone? The free Obama phone is a program that is meant to help the financially unstable who cannot afford access to a cell phone. Communication should not be limited to people in relation to what they are able to afford.” They actually call it the Obama phone. And here are some frequently asked questions from the Obama phone website:
“How do I Get an Obama Phone?
“What is the Obama Phone?
“Who Qualifies for an Obama Phone?
“Who Pays for the Obama Phone?
“Is the Obama Phone Real?”
Now, in the “who pays for the Obama phone,” in the Obama phone questions: “Lifeline is a government sponsored program, but who is paying for it. Some people claim that the government is using taxpayer’s money to run this program, however, the claim is false. Universal Service Fund (USF) which is administered by Federal Communication Commission along the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), pays for the Lifeline phone assistance program.”
So you and I are paying for Obama phones via the charges that are tacked on to our phone bill for the Universal Service Fund. The Al Gore tax, do you remember that tax? It’s still on your phone bill. To wire farms for land line phones. We are still paying that tax. And then there’s Internet taxes, Internet access for the poor and number of other things. The outfit that administers that is the Universal Service Fund.
Limbaugh doesn’t know how long it’s been around. But that’s not important. What he DOES know is that the name “Obama phone” was applied by the Obama campaign “to make people think that these free phones are coming from Obama’s stash, that they’re personal gifts from Obama.”
Limbaugh doesn’t “know” that either. The website he referenced was registered anonymously (Domains by Proxy) in August of 2011. It now redirects to a company called Q Link Wireless, a Lifeline provider. So much for Limbaugh’s claim that the Obama campaign created the name “Obama Phone.”
What does it say about the far-right that they feel they have to lie and deceive people? It tells us all we need to know. It tells us they know they can’t win by telling the truth – because the truth is not on their side.