Instead, there’s a case to be made that this dual narrative is specific to the Obama presidency. Subliminal and not-so-subliminal messages about Obama’s nationality and masculinity are rife in these critiques. Comparing Putin and Obama, Sarah Palin famously commented that Obama wears “mom jeans.” On matters abroad, the implication—as with the Bergdahl case—is often that Obama demonstrates excessive sympathy for foreigners at the expense of American interests. Dictatorship narratives often include either Soviet or Nazi imagery. The factor tying the two narratives together is the idea that Obama’s very loyalties are suspect. In other words, dictatorship and weakness are both logical extensions of the claim, prevalent in some conservative circles, that Obama is not quite one of us and not an appropriate symbol of American identity.
When Cruz declared Obama a dictator in March, he stated, “If you have a president picking and choosing which laws to follow and which laws to ignore, you no longer have a president.” But presidents pushing the boundaries of their authority—and getting attacked for it—is nothing new. George Washington invited criticism for abusing presidential power when he led troops to subdue the Whiskey Rebellion; Andrew Jackson was depicted in cartoons as “King Andrew” dressed in royal garb.What’s new is the dual narrative, and it has popped up again in the debates about Bowe Bergdahl: Alongside claims that Obama has been too weak, we now hear criticisms from Democrats and Republicans about the illegality of Obama’s actions to bring him home.