Be careful, if you dare to criticize Citizen Obama, comrade. The Web is watching. This week, President Obama’s re-election team launched “Attack Watch,” an interactive website that allows the president’s registered supporters to report instances of “attacks” against the commander in chief or his record. Citizen snitches are asked to detail who the attacker is, the type of attack, and whether the offending words were actually heard or passed along as second-hand rumors. The “Attack Files” section provides summary responses to some common smears. For example, the site explains that, “President Obama is a friend to Israel, despite unfounded claims to the contrary.” For critics, it represents a handy list of the issues that most infuriate the White House.
The look and feel of the site conveys a sense of foreboding. It’s Web design by Orwell. A black background, stark red headers and white text surround the site’s own attacks. Grainy black-and-white photos depict those on the White House hit list, which includes the likes of Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck. The design is so unconsciously theatrical and amateurish it is hard to believe it is not a parody.
It’s not the first time Mr. Obama has attempted to harness the Internet to create a nation of informants. In August 2009, the White House set up the email address “email@example.com” to gather information during the debate over Obamacare. According to an official press release, people were actually supposed to send a note to the White House “if you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy.” The effort raised serious concern over the appearance that the administration might be compiling an enemies list. As if the privacy implications weren’t bad enough, the address became instant spam bait. After three weeks of withering criticism, the White House abandoned its fishing expedition.
“Attack Watch” appears to be following the same path. This Obama public relations fiasco raises the question why the White House thought it was necessary in the first place. It is easy enough to monitor websites and keep track of memes through keyword searches, email alerts, aggregation sites or simply checking out the Drudge Report. The real purpose of “Attack Watch” has less to do with collecting stories than amassing email lists and contributions. The site prompts users to “support the truth” with essentially untraceable online donations. It asks for email addresses and ZIP codes of those who join the “attack wire.” Such information could come in handy to mobilize ground troops during the 2012 election. Someone willing to take the time to submit reports on their neighbors for allegedly smearing Mr. Obama is probably willing to work energetically to get voters to the polls.
“Attack Watch” reinforces the sense that there is something not quite right about the O Force. Building a national database of informants is the work of an obsessive, fearful and desperate team. It reflects the strident insecurity of a leader who is not used to hard criticism. It plays to the creepy authoritarian strain of leftist politics, the stratum that considers democracy a messy and useless impediment to the realization of utopia. It is a bad idea, poorly executed. If you’d like to report us for saying so, the address is www.attackwatch.com.
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