Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty's intriguing story today about the coining of a term and its political impact got us to wondering just how far the term "Obama phone" had embedded itself into the political culture. We've written before about how compounds of President Barack Obama's name have become politically charged.
We took a look via Capitol Words, Sunlight's tool that scans the Congressional Record and allows users to analyze speech patterns.
So far, no recorded mentions of "Obamaphone" or "Obama phone" on the floor of the House or Senate.
However, we did find a number of mentions of "free cell phone," starting in late 2012, when, according to Tumulty's story, conservative talk radio began to bus with the term. The first mention was on the last day of 2012, when Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul inveighed against the government providing a "free cell phone." Since then two other stalwart Republican conservatives, Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana and Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma also have used the term.
The program that gave rise to the "free cell phone" rumors is actually called Lifeline and dates back to the administration of President Ronald Reagan, a conservative GOP hero. Lifeline is a term that has come up more frequently in political discourse, mostly from Democrats, as the graphic from Capitol Words below illustrates:
Lifeline does not provide "free" cellphones but provides discounted telephone service to low income households. It began as a program for landlines and later expanded to cell phones. Meanwhile, at least one enterprising business, however, appears to be capitalizing on the popularity of the term "Obama phone."
One of the top results on a Google search for the term Obama phone is the site Obamaphone.net, which, while dispelling some of the myths surrounding the term, encourages viewers to apply for one. The signup process leads to a site for QLink Wireless, one of a number of companies that has qualified with the Federal Communications Commission to provide Lifeline service.
QLink Wireless is owned by Issa Asad, whose business empire includes prepaid phone cards, call centers and transaction processing services. Asad has also been linked to a nutritional supplement company, XM Brands, that's been accused of using deceptive Internet marketing practices in the past.
The Obamaphone.net site was established in August 2011; the Whois.net registration shows that it was purchased by a service that buys domain names for others.