The Drudge Report stirred up chatter about the “Obama Phone” Thursday when the website splashed a lead with a screenshot of a middle-aged black woman at a Romney event in Ohio, headlined “Obama has My Vote, He Gave Me a Free Phone.” The link directed to an edited video in which a Cleveland woman extolls the virtues of the Obama-provided free phone, saying “[Obama] gave us a phone, he’s gonna do more!”
Rush Limbaugh pounced on the video, too, connecting the woman who appeared in the video to the 47 percent. Limbaugh on his Thursday show:
So these are the people that don’t like Romney because of what he said about 47 percent? No, these are the 47 percent! … She knows. She knows how to get this free Obama phone. She knows everything about it. She may not know who George Washington is or Abraham Lincoln, but she knows how to get an Obama phone.
Presently, Drudge links to an article at the Washington Examiner explaining where this miraculous “Obama Phone” originated: with an FCC program called Lifeline in 1984 during the Reagan administration that, according to the agency’s website, “provides discounts on monthly service and initial telephone installation or activation fees for primary residences to income-eligible consumers.” The rationale, according to the agency, was that “FCC and Congress recognize that telephone service provides a vital link to emergency services, government services and surrounding communities.”
So Obama is not walking around Cleveland handing out smartphones to low-income citizens on the taxpayer’s dollar to gin up votes. (Bumper stickers are free, though.) Atlantic Wire notes that the program was expanded under Clinton with the Telecommunications Act, while Think Progress points out a similar program called SafeLink Wireless, a “U.S. government supported program for income eligible households that ensures telephone service is available and affordable for eligible low-income households” started under George W. Bush.
Eventually Obama’s Truth Team stepped into the fray, probably after taking note of the many #obamaphone jokes going around Twitter. It directed followers to factcheck.org, which dispels the handout idea, or at least clarifies where the program originated and how low-income people access phones. Someone should probably tell that (alleged) Obama supporter where her free phone really came from, but we couldn’t bear to do it ourselves. It would be like telling a kid that Santa Claus isn’t real.