Over the past 24 hours, thanks to the Drudge Report, conservatives have been going (even more) crazy (than usual) over the “Obama phone,” even claiming Obama is buying votes. A racial, if not racist, video — viewed over 1.1 million times since it was uploaded two days ago — featuring an African American woman who speaks probably the way many Tea Party racists think many, if not most, African Americans speak, says she’s going to vote for President Obama because he gave her a phone.
To make conservatives squeal with delight even more, she’s standing behind a group of SEIU union members protesting at a Romney event in Ohio, and she says if you want an Obama phone “you sign up if you’re on food stamps you’re on social security, you got low income, disability.”
Now, for the truth about the phone.
The Atlantic explains that President Obama didn’t give her a phone — actually, you and Ronald Reagan did. Even Fox News notes, “even though some beneficiaries may credit President Obama for providing the phones, Lifeline is an extension of a program that has existed since 1985.”
“There was a video leading the Drudge Report on Thursday afternoon of a poor black woman with messed-up teeth saying she’s voting for President Obama because he gave her a free phone, and perhaps you have some questions about it,” Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic writes. “Questions like: Is this video racist? Is Obama really giving away phones? Is anyone really bothered by these Obama Phones? And, come on, this is just blatant racism, right? We’ll try to answer them.”
Is this Obama Phone phone real?
Sort of. The Federal Communications Commission has a program called Lifeline that provides low-cost or free phone service. The agency’s website says this is because it and Congress “recognize that telephone service provides a vital link to emergency services, government services and surrounding communities.” Who qualifies varies by state, but “in general,” to qualify you must have an income that is no more than 135 percent of the federal poverty line, or be enrolled in assistance programs like Medicaid, public housing assistance, discounted school lunch, or yes, food stamps. (This Factcheck.org piece has a good overview of the issue.) Strictly speaking, it’s not a government-funded program: the telephone companies make payments to a fund administered by a non-profit called the Universal Service Administrative Company, but anyone with a phone bill chips in through a surcharge on their service.
Is the Obama Phone Obama’s doing?
No. The universal service requirement dates back at least to the Communications Act of 1934. The Lifeline program specifically was started in 1984 under President Reagan and was expanded in 1996 under President Clinton to allow qualifying households to choose to apply the benefit to either a landline or a cell phone. So no, it’s not an Obama handout.
The “Obama phone” baloney isn’t new — there’s even an ObamaPhone website explaining the ludicrousness of it.
Noting that the so-called Obama phone “existed since before Mitt Romney was born,” Dave Weigel at Slate writes:
You know what else has existed for a long time? The Drudge Report hyping up tabloid news that makes black people look like violent dopes who’ll do anything for more goodies from Obama. Three years and 11 months ago, Drudge led with an unconfirmed story about a McCain volunteer who’d been “attacked and mutilated” in Pittsburgh, a “B carved into her face” by a black man. McCain himself called the volunteer, Ashley Todd. And then her story fell apart. Drudge (I’m referring to the man and his staff) knows its audience, and knows that stories of Black People Gone Wild will light up the Internet. We’ve got six weeks until the election, but this will by no means be the last such story on Drudge — and by extension, around the conservative ‘spheres. The trick for Republicans will be to avoid the McCain blunder, and back slooooowly away from this.
But perhaps the best commentary on the “Obama phone” comes from a commenter on New York Magazine’s story:
“Obama’s just jealous that Romney already has a phone named after him – the Android, obviously.”
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.