What would an American presidential election be without that magical Hollywood touch?
Until this point, the mudslinging Republican primary had been looking a little bit like some bad television remake of Grumpy Old (and Middle Aged) Men. Now that the Republicans seem to be grudgingly coalescing around Mitt Romney as their man to take on President Obama in November, the focus is shifting to Obama himself.
And that's where Hollywood, with its deft blurring of fact and fiction, comes in. Except the Republicans cannot seem to make up their mind about which Hollywood remake they want to cast Barack Obama in.
Luckily, they have several villainous genres to choose from. All of them feature a sizzling item number by the hottest bad boy in town -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Welcome to Obamaville. Rick Santorum's creepy political ad about what's going to happen to America in 2014 if Obama is reelected has just become the most watched political ad for last week. Deservedly so. It's brilliantly made, distilling a Stephen King nightmare into barely 65 seconds, with every spooky cliché of everyday horror -- a solitary abandoned sneaker in a park, a sputtering candle, flying crows, a post-apocalyptic empty playground.
Who cares if it does not make much sense? Why would you call a town Obamaville, wondered comedian Jon Stewart, and not show a single black person in it. "The population is 100 percent unhappy white people," he said on his Daily Show. Business Insider even did a scene-by-scene analysis that you can check out here.
Like most horror movies, it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. What does that shot of water on a windshield on a sunny day signify? Why is that man holding a petrol pump nozzle to his head like a gun? "Do it, mother******," chortled Stewart. "Nothing happens. You'll just smell like gas for a day."
But it does not matter. What the ad proves is that as long as you tint everything a sallow green, we have been well-trained by Hollywood to shudder reflexively. Ironically, the ad was produced by the hardcore conservative's darling Rick Santorum who started his campaign with sunny visuals of him walking in a garden with his wife while holding his youngest daughter. Now it's clear that his campaign has jumped the shark, says Rolling Stone. Morning in America has become mourning in America.
Ahmadinejad spotting: With careful splicing, the ad shows a quick image of Obama beaming in a job-well-done kind of way while the narrator talks darkly about that "sworn enemy of America," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
My name is Bond, James Bond
If Obama as the Nightmare on Main Street does not work for you, how about Obama as a sort of James Bond gone bad? That off-mic moment with Russia's Dmitri Medvedev when Obama said he'd have more "flexibility" after the elections, provided just the fodder for the Bond-esque trailer Operation Hot Mic.
It's a familiar bogeyman for Americans, one they all understand from 007 days -- the Russians are coming. It's almost reassuringly nostalgic, a good versus evil formula everyone understands. Obama's mission as President Flexible is to clear the way for them. Poor Dmitri Medvedev is just a glorified messenger boy playing Dr. Transmitkov with a fluffy white cat on his shoulder. The piece de resistance is Vladimir Putin playing himself and shown in shirtless glory astride a horse. It all comes with a clever tagline -- Operation Hot Mic. You can only run twice. America can't afford the risk.
That Putin equestrian shot is an odd choice. The last American president on horseback people remember is George W. Bush. And no Republican wants to remind Americans that when George W Bush had first met that very same Vladimir Putin, he'd come up with that unforgettable line: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul."
Ahmadinejad spotting: A quick shot of Vladimir Putin with Ahmadinejad makes it clear that there's a new axis of evil forming.
The Muslim Manchurian Candidate
If all other casting strategies fail, there's the fail-safe one -- Obama as the Muslim Manchurian candidate, the closet Muslim who is going to steer America away from its Christian roots. According to John Feffer of Foreign Policy in Focus that Muslim Manchurian candidate script has got a bit of a new twist now.
The old script had him as a closet Muslim who attended a radical madrasa in Indonesia and took his oath of office with his hand on the Quran. But this time around, says Feffer, Obama does not have to BE Muslim. The evidentiary standard has gotten much lower -- he just has to "act Muslim" or as televangelist Franklim Graham told MSNBC, give "Islam a pass."
The fact is, as Feffer points out, "the president makes a lousy Muslim Manchurian candidate." He provided federal funds to the New York City Police to expand its surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, he's maintained a tight relationship with Israel, and his troops in Afghanistan have not exactly endeared themselves to local Muslims by burning the Quran and massacring villagers. Obama's favorability ratings in the Muslim world were 51 percent in 2009. In 2011 they were down to 16 percent and dropping.
But if Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate, he's going to want to distract America from his Mormon faith, which many Christians are leery about. The Muslim Manchurian Candidate is the perfect red herring. As Feffer says:
There are no Mormon countries to which Romney can be accused of owing primary allegiance. It will be safe, in other words, to challenge Obama for acting rather than being Muslim, for deferring to the Muslim world much as anti-Catholic voters in 1960 imagined John F. Kennedy to be taking his orders directly from the Pope.
Ahmadinejad spotting: The Muslim Manchurian candidate is a presented as an appeaser of Ahmadinejad although Feffer points out "the administration's policy on Iran is virtually indistinguishable from those of his Republican challengers."
There are many more iconic villains to choose from as the campaigns get into full swing. Now let's see what the Democrats can come up with. The DNC brought out a Dirty Tricks ad to counter that Obama-Ahmadinejad splicing. But that's just whiny. They are going to need to get a whole lot snappier because Rick Santorum has seven more parts to his chills from Obamaville mini-series in the pipeline.
I mean, come on. At least Barack is a name with some gravitas. A Mitt, a Newt and a Rick duking it out to become the most powerful man in the world. What is this -- Riverdale High?
Can it get more spoofworthy than that?
Let the games begin.
Another version of this blog first appeared on Firstpost.com.