Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 19, 2010

IT'S NOT JUST THE ZOMBIE LIE THAT'S THE PROBLEM.... A little too often, our discourse is just disheartening.

Now comes fresh evidence of misperceptions about the president taking root in the public mind: a new poll by the Pew Research Center finds a substantial rise in the percentage of Americans who believe, incorrectly, that Mr. Obama is Muslim. The president is Christian, but 18 percent now believe he is Muslim, up from 12 percent when he ran for the presidency and 11 percent after he was inaugurated.

The findings suggest that, nearly two years into Mr. Obama's presidency, the White House is struggling with the perception of "otherness" that Candidate Obama sought so hard to overcome....

There's some politics at play, here. Indeed, more than a third of self-identified Republicans actually believe that the president is a secret Muslim. While the overall number of Americans who believe this nonsense is up, the sharpest increase comes from conservative Republicans (up 16 percentage points since last year).

If this were simply a matter of ignorant voters being mislead by right-wing garbage, it'd merely be disappointing. But in this case, there's very likely a little more to it.

Andrew Kohut, the Pew center's director, said something interesting in response to results: "This is an expression of the people who are opposed to Obama having an increasingly negative view of him."

Ben Smith suggested something similar, speculating that "telling a pollster that Obama is a Muslim is just another way of expressing disapproval." From the Pew report:

Beliefs about Obama's religion are closely linked to political judgments about him. Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Obama is doing. Those who are unsure about Obama's religion are about evenly divided in their views of his performance.

In other words, we've come to a point in our discourse at which "Muslim" isn't an adjective used to describe 1.5 billion people; it's an adjective some Americans use as an insult. While some Democrats used to criticize George W. Bush with words like "idiot" and "liar," Obama's detractors now use "Muslim" in much the same way. And the more the president's support falters, the more "Muslim" he appears in the eyes of his critics.

As a cultural matter, this is insane. As a political matter, there doesn't appear to be much anyone can do to convince Americans that the president is not, in fact, a secret Muslim.

The White House says the public -- and the press -- are not listening. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has given six speeches either from a church pulpit or addressing religion in public life -- including an Easter prayer breakfast where he "offered a very personal and candid reflection of what the Resurrection means to him," said Joshua DuBois, who runs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. [...]

The White House says Mr. Obama prays daily, sometimes in person or over the telephone with a small circle of Christian pastors. One of them, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who was also a spiritual adviser to former President George W. Bush, telephoned a reporter on Wednesday, at the White House's behest. He said he was surprised that the number of Americans who say Mr. Obama is Muslim is growing.

"I must say," Mr. Caldwell said, "never in the history of modern-day presidential politics has a president confessed his faith in the Lord, and folks basically call him a liar."


Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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Muslim is the new black.

Posted by: John Henry on August 19, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should have stayed with Jeremiah Wright's church.

Posted by: Ray Waldren on August 19, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Not that I have any personal information, but I say this is just the expected result of relentless propaganda.

For the average Joe who knows very little, the constant "he's a closet Muslim" eventually becomes real. You just have to say it a million times and counting.

Posted by: Mark-NC on August 19, 2010 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Make no mistake, there might be a few truly stupid people that honestly believe he's a muslim, but most of the people who say he is are using their answer as a slander. Its a deliberate smear. They know its not true, but they don't have a concept of truth that's normal. To right wing conservatives the "truth" is whatever furthers their own agenda, whatever bolsters what they want to believe or what they need to be "true."

Take that pol with a grain of salt as an indication of what people really believe...but it is accurate to what some people have a vested interest in believing.

Posted by: SaintZak on August 19, 2010 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

It keeps getting harder for "The Onion" to compete with the real world.

Posted by: Basilisc on August 19, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

can he PLEASE just come out and say what we all know he is thinking: there is no god.

it's sad to see that a crypto-muslim president is still preferable to an atheistic one. so sad.

Posted by: ahoy polloi on August 19, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK


Truer words have never been spoken.


Posted by: Mitch on August 19, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Well, at least they're not saying he's "gay."

Posted by: CT on August 19, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Calling someone a Muslim (or gay, atheistic, Jewish, or French) is not a smear. Yes, it's intended that way but for the smear to be real, then its putative content - actual evil - has to be accepted. During the 2008 campaign, when the opposition was using Hussein as a shorthand put-down, lots of folks on our side starting signing their names with Hussein in the middle. The childishness of bigots will not be overcome with facts, shame, or ridicule. Owning the humanity of the "other" is the best approach. It's one reason to love Obama.

walt, a secret Muslim.

Posted by: walt on August 19, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

It's the Overton Window. With the extreme right position being that Obama was born in Kenya, the position he is a Muslim becomes "moderate"

Posted by: mcc on August 19, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Muslim isn't the new black. It's the new n****r.

Posted by: psychobroad on August 19, 2010 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

What a depressing summer. Worse & worse news everyday about the economy, Afghanistan, climate change, the oil spill.

At least the American people are pulling together as one and ... nah, who'm I kidding. The American people are turning in droves towards charlatans, demagogues, con artists, fearmongers, propagandists. Ignorance is chic. Instead of a search for solutions, there's an enthusiastic search for scapegoats. The Democrats' response makes fecklessness look good. And the media keeps clapping and cheering the whole thing on.

Posted by: Basilsc on August 19, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

@psychobroad -- so spot-on it burns, baby!

Posted by: ManOutOfTime on August 19, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Well, psychobroad beat me to it.

Except for Dr. Laura, we are no longer allowed to use that word, so we say "muslim" instead, and all our racist friends know what we mean.

There is a mosque in the Pentagon; I wonder if there is a secret tunnel from the White House. . .

Posted by: DAY on August 19, 2010 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Well, if the American right go as far as believing that Einstein's theory of relativity is a liberal plot (see: Conservapedia), why not just believe this too?

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, "Everyone is entitled to their own personal opinions. Nobody is entitled to their own personal facts."

The codicil is, of course, that when people start giving themselves license to make up their own personal facts and basing their politics around myths, conspiracy theories, enemies lists and emotional reactions ... well, those places tend to end up like Weimar Germany.

Posted by: Bokonon on August 19, 2010 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

"In other words, we've come to a point in our discourse at which "Muslim" isn't an adjective used to describe 1.5 billion people; it's an adjective some Americans use as an insult."

In other words, the way that some Germans in the 1930s referred to the Weimar Republic as "Jewish."

Posted by: davidp on August 19, 2010 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

And of course we know that those republicans such as boner and the rest of that vile crowd who are questioning his religion are not doubt church attending Christians of impeccable morality and virtue, all we have to do is ask them and they will tell us so.
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Posted by: grandpajohn on August 19, 2010 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

On a more serious note, incidentally, I think the chances are pretty good that the republicans are playing to the Obama=Muslim association when they decided to make this election all about opposing mosques. Or rather, the Republicans *are* doing this, the question is whether they realized they were doing it when they decided to start.

If Hillary Clinton were President right now, the right would be going just as completely crazy as they are right now, but over different things, I think. As it is I don't think it's a coincidence that what the right is going crazy over right now is that they're lashing out against anchor babies and Muslims (sometimes the same thing), against everything that's immigrant and foreign and Other. I think you can see this in that they're identifying the President as an illegal immigrant and Muslim himself. This entire push by the Republicans is code words and dog whistles, it's all driven by tapping into the wave of anger among the right wing base set off by that there's something about the newly elected President they don't like but don't want to say what out loud.

Posted by: mcc on August 19, 2010 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

mr. obama is a democrat. no democrat could possibly be christian. i mean look at jimmy carter. he claimed to be a baptist but all he's done since leaving office is work for the poor and to build world peace. i don't he's ever spoken out against gay marriage.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on August 19, 2010 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

The far right in the US have always expressed a uniquely sick self righteousness that comes out in name calling: from racial epithets in the past to "commie" and "fellow travellor" in the fifties. Now this. I can't stomach their odd delight in egging each other on. Making happy in their pants in public may work for political sickies in the US but can't even cross the border a half mile into Canada, much less the rest of the world. That kind of says something.

I really hope Obama will show them to be psychologically sick once and for all. He is the first formidable opponent to the sickies since JFK, and his intellect and dignity may shame the swing section of the American public from catching the fever.

Posted by: Bob M on August 19, 2010 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

when I see stupid stuff like this, i wonder how many people are just messing with the poolster

Posted by: Jamie on August 19, 2010 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

mcc--a very interesting comment, thank you.

I imagine if Hillary were president we'd be hearing more about abortion and sexual orientation. The criticisms would be gender-related paranoid fantasies rather than the Obama race-related paranoid fantasies.

I know these delusional minds also have class-related paranoid fantasies ("The elite want to eat your babies!") but those have been quiet since John Kerry lost in 2004. It ultimately all comes down to tribal instincts, and they have all sorts of paranoid delusions to fuel their sense of identity.

They are walking, talking living exhibitions of sociological research freak show. ("Step right up, folks, and see a man who thinks the President is a Muslim!!!!)

Posted by: PTate in MN on August 19, 2010 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

This shit never gets old. The righties accused FDR of being Jewish at a time when anti-Semitism was still a major player in elite exclusion.

Rush Limbaugh is just Father Coughlin without the charm.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on August 19, 2010 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Just more proof that a large number of Americans are morons, and thus the GOP will always have a substantial base.

Hardly news to anyone.

Posted by: Jon on August 19, 2010 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Look on the bright side of things and lighten up!

Other polls show that only 22% of republicans believe that Obama is The Anti-Christ!

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on August 19, 2010 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

I fear more and more for his life.

Posted by: cr on August 19, 2010 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Since taking office, Mr. Obama has given six speeches either from a church pulpit or addressing religion in public life

That's exactly what a secret Muslim would do! Boy, are those people sneaky!

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on August 19, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

In response to cr...

If Obama was assassinated by one of Glen Beck's followers, the likelihood of getting progressive, meaningful legislation would probably be substantially higher.

Even (or especially) if the former "Senator from MasterCard" became the president, we could hope for an LBJ type mood for the country to support legislation for improving our society.

On the plus/plus side, maybe people would realize what the hatemongers on the right are doing to our country. On the plus/plus/plus side, maybe a posse would lynch Glenn Beck, Rush Limpballs, and a few more of the hatemongers.

Therefore, do not fear for Obama's life. It would be a noble, worthy sacrifice.

Posted by: AngryOldVet on August 19, 2010 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

And in a related poll, 87% of self-identified republicans told the pollster that they have so little respect for pollsters that they regularly lie to pollsters. When asked whether they were telling the truth when they said that they regularlys lie to pollsters, 79 percent responded "undecided", while the other 33% responded "a kind of fish". The above poll has a margin of error of +/- 122%. The margin of error of the margin of error is a large number that can only be expressed in Sumerian Cuneiform on a clay tablet. (Microsoft will include support for wireless clay tablets in the upcoming Windows 3400 BCE.)

Posted by: Tim H on August 19, 2010 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Those who haven't caught on to the Muslim-as-slur simply refer to him as a communist, which is equally wrong. They're all interchangeable to some of these folks.

Posted by: short fuse on August 19, 2010 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I think "Muslim" is the new "Jew" -- in the sense that the word was used in 1930's and '40's Germany. After all, his grandfather WAS Muslim, and that makes him one, no matter what he thinks, as long as you accept the premise that Islam is a genetic taint passed in the blood.

Posted by: T-Rex on August 19, 2010 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

A few points:

a) I'd like to know how many people know (a the most basic level) what a muslim is. There was an anecdote in the movie "Defamation," a film on antisemitism, where a man is introducing another as a jew: "you know, like in the old testament." The third person replies; "well, as long as they believe in christ."

b) I assume that many respondents don't actually believe this but do it for some other reason. Like you said, I'm not sure this makes it better or worse.

c) I'm not sure how I would answer the poll question: "do you support or oppose" some religious construction. It is accurate to say that I oppose those who would block it solely on religious grounds, but I most assuredly would not support it. I also wonder how exactly such a move to block it would be done. It would have to either designate some radius as a unique national area or maybe include all national monuments of any description, and probably would have to also block other religious construction, not simply islamic ones. In this latter case, I would support such a move.

Posted by: jhm on August 19, 2010 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Hate to tell the christians but, there really isn't a god anyway ..

Posted by: Trollop on August 19, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Mission Accomplished.

Posted by: terraformer on August 19, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to share a story that really encapsulates much of what is happening with "religion" today. I apologize in advance for the length and not creating a hyperlink...still learning that.
One Sunday morning, an old cowboy entered a church just before services were to begin. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore jeans, a denim shirt and boots that were worn and ragged. In his hand he carried a worn-out old hat and an equally worn, dog-eared Bible.

The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed with expensive clothes and fine jewelry. As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to, or welcomed him. They were all appalled by his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.

As the old cowboy was leaving the church, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. "Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship in church." The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.

The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored. The preacher approached the cowboy and said, "I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church."
"I did," replied the old cowboy.
"And what was his reply?" asked the preacher.
"Well, sir, God told me that he didn't have a clue what I should wear. He said he'd never been in this church."

Posted by: st john on August 19, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

st john: loved the story.

BTW, the cowboy would be welcome in my church.

Posted by: Hannah on August 19, 2010 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK


Along with his valuable contributions to our country, I was also thinking of the loss to Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and others who know and love Barack.

Sorry that your military service made you into such an asshole. I hear it happens a lot. Good thing that our president is bringing more troops home from Iraq.

Posted by: cr on August 19, 2010 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

So let me get this straight, the election theme is "Mr. Obama is not a Muslim" ?

Posted by: Neo on August 19, 2010 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

st john, great story! I imagine the punch line applies to many many churches.

Posted by: psychobroad on August 19, 2010 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Well, of course Obama is a Muslim. Why do you think he's trying to build the Cordoba Mosque on the site of the World Trade Center?

My co-worker's brother-in-law's pet hamster heard this on AM radio, so it must be true.

Posted by: FSM on August 19, 2010 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

It is because "Muslim" is a synonym for a word that starts with an "n".

Posted by: Marc in Denver on August 19, 2010 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

When I saw this story I started looking for something that wasn't in the story--where the hell the meme started.
Here's one place:


Here's that "source":


So it's not some crackpots emailing garbage to each other. A faux ex-terrorist peddling his "insights" in venues across the country seems to be below the radar of Time magazine.

Time's other problem is that their natural consumers are learning to to do the electronic legwork that Time can't be bothered to do.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on August 19, 2010 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

I listened to Rush Limbaugh today. While he never directly called Obama a Muslim, he did everything he could to imply it and left unchallenged listeners who said Obama is a Muslim. He called the President "Imann Obama" and played tapes from an old interview when the President misspoke and said "his Muslim values". He went on a harangue about how the media is the adversary; very clearly saying not to believe what the mainstream media tells you.

The rightwingers have created their own reality and the scary thing is how many people are buying it.

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Posted by: gaga94 on August 20, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

"Why do you think he's trying to build the Cordoba Mosque on the site of the World Trade Center?"
Posted by: FSM on August 19, 2010 at 4:52 PM

But I think you meant to say the 9/11 Victory Mosque at Ground Zero.
If you're gonna do it, do it whole hog.

Posted by: smartalek on August 20, 2010 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Barack Hussein Obama is more of a Muslim than many of those who call themselves the Defenders of Islam...in particular, I have a very tall Arab currently residing on the Afpak border in mind.

As for those who want to use it as an insult (I started to write the word "vituperatively" but it struck me that they probably wouldn't know what it means): Whether you like it or not, it really isn't going to make any difference to the country whether or not he is a closet Muslim. Aside from you, no one cares, and you weren't going to vote for him anyway.

It is rather amazing that a man can get up and say "I am a Christian", and be disbelieved. How do these people know that their own pastor or preacher or neighbor or fellow church-goer is a Christian? It used to be that a profession of faith was enough.

Posted by: Byron Raum on August 20, 2010 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK



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