WASHINGTON - It's not a new slur, but nonetheless it isn't one hurled by the brain trust of the Republican party until now: Barack Obama as Batman's The Joker, plotting to transform the United States into a socialist state with his sidekick, the evil villainess Nancy Pelosi.
The party's finance director was facing calls for his resignation Thursday in the wake of a Powerpoint presentation leaked to the influential D.C. website, Politico.com, that urged Republican legislators to partake in fear-mongering as the mid-term elections loom.
The presentation featured images of Obama altered to look like The Joker, as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight," and was delivered at a recent party gathering in Florida by Rob Bickhart, the party's finance director.
Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, was portrayed as Cruella De Vil, the famous Disney villainess from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians." Both politicians should be accused, the presentation suggested, of leading the U.S. down a path to socialism.
Michael Steele, the Republican party chairman, immediately moved to distance himself from the "evil empire" strategy that was previously thought to be the sole terrain of the so-called Tea Party movement.
"Obviously, the chairman disagrees with the language and finds the use of such imagery to be unacceptable," party spokesman Doug Heye said in an emailed statement. "It will not be used by the Republican National Committee - in any capacity - in the future."
Democrats were predictably outraged, saying the presentation proves the Republican party has been hijacked by the basest elements of its socially conservative supporters. Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, also called the strategy "crass, juvenile and offensive."
But Republicans too were outraged.
"While Democrats in the streets across America and progressives on the far left were angry and vicious towards George W. Bush, I think you would have to search long and hard for any DNC presentations that depicted President George W. Bush the way this does," Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who now hosts a show on MSNBC, said Thursday.
"It's childish, first of all," he said. "But, secondly, it is in such bad taste that whoever put this together should be fired from the RNC."
In a post on Politico in the aftermath of the revelation, Republican strategist Cameron Lynch accused the party of being "mis-focused in their intensely personal Obama rhetoric."
Lynch, who's worked for Bob Dole and John McCain, said Republicans should "focus more on demonstrating their comprehensive solutions to major public policy issues ... rather than to simply attack the president personally."
"Hyperbolic rhetoric and fear-mongering might placate the fringe base of the Republican party, but it won't win the moderates and independents who have become so essential to victory in American elections," he wrote.
Posters and T-shirts depicting Obama as "The Joker" were a common sight at various Tea Party rallies over the past year. But those types of images were shelved at the recent Tea Party event in Nashville in an attempt to portray the movement in a more moderate light.
Ironically, the Joker image was created by someone not likely to be embraced by the average Tea Party demonstrator - a young Muslim college student who was protesting Obama's appointment of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff. Firas Alkhateeb created the image to condemn Emanuel as "a fervent anti-Islam voice" and a "Zionist."
The Republican Powerpoint demonstration urged Republicans to play on the fears of "ego-driven," "reactionary" and wealthy donors, in addition to wooing them with offers of access to influential Republicans and "tchochkes" - free goods and services.
One slide asked: "What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House, or the Senate ...? The answer is: 'Save the country from trending toward socialism!"'
Brad Woodhouse, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said Thursday he doubted the presentation didn't have the blessing of high-ranking members of the party.
"This type of politics-at-all-cost approach to our public discourse is what the American people are sick and tired of - and if anyone thinks this wasn't approved of or signed off on at the highest levels, they are kidding themselves," he said in a statement.
"Republicans across the country have cheered on crowds where these very images appeared; they've encouraged and perpetuated scandalous lies about the president and his plans. And, from calling for secession to condoning violence against government officials, they have sunk to new and unbelievable lows."