President Obama had been in office eight months when @herdwatching tweeted his or her thoughts on how his presidency was going so far.
"Obamas failure is looking to be so complete he will ahnd [sic] the Republicans the white house for another 8 years. #thanksobama #tcot #hcr"
— Herdwatching (@herdwatching) September 4, 2009
The tweet, from September 3, 2009, was favorited by no one and re-tweeted by no one. But it was the earliest recorded instance the hashtags #thanksobama and #tcot, meaning "Top Conservatives on Twitter," being used together on Twitter.
Three months later, a photo of a little girl flipping the bird was posted to "Authentic Connecticut Republican," a blog on Blogspot.
"THANKS, OBAMA. You've spent my lunch money, my allowance, my inheritance, 35 years of future paychecks, and my retirement. You a**hole," the text on the image read.
The photo was an example of a so-called "demotivational poster," the sarcastic inverse of those inspirational posters with stock photos and motivational sayings. Instead of a mountain or rowers, there was an upset girl, and instead of the words "TEAMWORK" or "PERSISTANCE," it was "THANKS OBAMA." A meme was born.
Through 2009 and 2010, "Thanks Obama" was used by conservatives to sarcastically thank the president for things like health-care reform (#hcr), the national debt, and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
— TejasKat (@TejasKat) May 31, 2010
— Daniel Blackford (@dancblackford) June 29, 2010
The sentiments of early "Thanks Obama" users expressed conservatives' frustrations with Obama. It wasn't until after the 2010 midterm election when Republicans gained control of the House and made gains in the Senate, that the meme was re-purposed.
In 2011, "Thanks Obama" was used in a YouTube video by Robert Benfer, who played a man threatened by his friend with a knife whenever their other friend leaves the room. It was nonsensical and didn't actually have anything to do with Obama, and was one of the first instances of the phrase being used ironically, according to online meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme. Later that year, a photo of a defeated-looking Obama was uploaded to Quickmeme, a site that lets users superimpose their own text in Impact font over images, one of the most popular meme formats of the early 2010s.
In its new form, the "Thanks Obama" meme was still about frustration, but frustration with criticism directed at Obama for basically any societal ill. In 2012, Reddit user Martholomule uploaded a gif of a man spilling food to the /r/reactiongifs subreddit and wrote, "My family's reaction to the last four years."
"I freaking love this," commented FriarTuck1234. "Living in texas, is exhausting at times. T republicans that blame their head colds on Obama gets old."
From there, "Thanks Obama" quickly spread and was paired with all kinds of #fail photos and gifs. A subreddit dedicated to the genre was created. Its top post ever was a screenshot of the time the power went out at the Super Bowl in 2013.
Last week, in the /r/ThanksObama subreddit, kvachon suggested the meme was nearing the end of its run when he posed a question:
"Has this sub run its course? Shall we gracefully close it down? Or should we keep it going until the end of this term"
Most were in favor of leaving it open until Obama leaves office. "Keep it going until we can blame Hillary. Or Bush," skiboy53 wrote.
TheSystem_IsDown said the meme "will remain relevant" no matter who's president.
"The message here is that you can't just say everything is the leader's fault and defer to his political opponents in the next election."
"Thanks Obama" was ultimately acknowledged by the president himself in a video posted Thursday by BuzzFeed, "Things Everyone Does But Doesn't Talk About." It's a clever use of the phrase, and fitting for a president who often complains about the difficulty of getting things done for reasons out of control. It's also essentially the death of a meme.
If a meme is popular, its life cycle is short. It's suffocated by attention -- the very thing that gives it life -- and picked up by morning-show hosts eager to explain the #hottest #teen #trends and by brands who repackage it to sell a product.
When BuzzFeed's video ends, users are given two options: replay video, or "learn more" at healthcare.gov.
"Welp, that's it folks," CEOHNO wrote in the thread about the video on /r/ThanksObama. "Great work all around. Mods, go ahead and shut down the subreddit."
Note: While @herdwatching has the earliest instance of #thanksobama and #tcot tweeted together, @vlucas tweeted #thanksobama by itself four months earlier in a tweet about the U.S. considering a national sales tax.
WTF: U.S. considering national sales tax (ala VAT) http://bit.ly/6gUPm #thanksobama
— ᴠᴀɴᴄᴇ ʟᴜᴄᴀs (@vlucas) May 27, 2009