Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 23, 2010

A SIMPLE QUESTION THAT DESERVES A SIMPLE ANSWER.... Way back in March 2008, Hillary Clinton was asked on "60 Minutes" about right-wing rumors that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim. Steve Kroft said, "You said you'd take Senator Obama at his word that he's not a Muslim. You don't believe that he's..." to which Clinton replied, "No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know."

In context, there was nothing particularly problematic about the response, but the qualifier -- "as far as I know" -- generated some controversy.

More than two years later, as a consequence of our often-ridiculous public discourse, the subject continues to generate discussion and confusion. On "Meet the Press" yesterday, David Gregory asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about the large chunk of the country that believes the nonsense about the president's faith. McConnell initially tried to stick to his talking points, saying, "The president's faith in the government to stimulate the economy is what people are questioning."

Gregory kept at it, before McConnell twice said, "I take the president at his word."

Jon Chait hears a dog-whistle.

To say that you "take him at his word" means two things. First of all, it suggests that the president's word is the only information we have to go on here. Of course, that is absurd. Second, if further suggests that, the evidence being weak or inconclusive, McConnell is taking the high road by accepting Obama's testimony.

The formulation is a way of putatively siding with the truth so that he can't be pilloried by the media, while subtly suggesting that he is open to the views of Americans who think Obama is Muslim. And, of course, if reporters recognize the sneaky little game he's playing and demand a stronger formulation, all the better! It gets more chatter about Obama and possibly being a Muslim into the news.

McConnell used the formulation twice. It's not an accident.

In fairness, McConnell, after pointing to what the president has said about his own faith, added, "I don't think that's in dispute." That's closer to what the official party line should be, but it's still short.

The correct answer is to dismiss nonsense because it's nonsense. President Obama is a Christian. He's professed his Christian faith. He and his family were members of a Christian church. He's offered public testimony about his faith, and started a prayer circle in the White House with Christian pastors. Muslims don't do any of these things.

The Americans who perceive the president as a secret Muslim are wrong. McConnell should have the courage to say so.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Comments

Actually, the more appropriate response is it doesn't matter what faith if any the President professes. I believe Gen. Colin Powell gave a similar response on a Sunday talk show a year or so ago.

Posted by: Jim Capparell on August 23, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Uh huh. I'm sure the minority leader says, he loves his country and does not mean to do it harm. I guess I take him at his word.

Posted by: bcinaz on August 23, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Watch it there, Steve. You say the words "McConnell" and "courage" in the same sentence, you risk a matter/antimatter explosion. I hope your containment field is up to snuff.

Posted by: jvwalt on August 23, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

But there is an even bigger problem here. Even if he were a Muslim, my question is, SO WHAT? A Muslim cannot be the president? Why are we treating the idea of being a Muslim as a bad thing? I am not a Muslim and never will be. But if YOU want to be a Muslim, I really do not care as long as you do not force it down my throat.

Why aren't people asking that question?

Posted by: Don B on August 23, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Shame on America that this question even matters.

Posted by: Vokoban on August 23, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

The same people who hate Obama because he sat in a Christian church led by Rev. Wright also believe Obama is a Muslim. Try to figure that one out.

Posted by: John Dillinger on August 23, 2010 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Dillinger pretty much echoes my position on this 'religion thing'.

Figuring it out is easy- the Opposition Party is grasping at anything available, and flinging it at Obama and the Democratic party, in hopes that it will deflect attention from their moral, fiscal, and intellectual bankruptcy.

Posted by: DAY on August 23, 2010 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

The correct answer is: That's a stupid question

Of course, no pol (well, maybe Barney Frank) would give such an answer;>

Posted by: martin on August 23, 2010 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

It'd be nice if David Gregory and you too Steve stopped talking and writing about nonsense like this. The people who say they think Obama is a Muslim to pollsters say it in hopes that the media will spend time talking and writing about nonsense instead of policy positions that matter.

Conservative Republicans get a titter out of being asked dumb questions like this and say "yes!" whether they believe it or not. They'd say yes to Obama being Jack the Ripper if they thought it'd keep Gregory from asking McConnell about his obstructionist tactics or plans for a GOP senate.

Posted by: anonymous on August 23, 2010 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised Gregory didn't ask the obvious follow up, 'Is Reverend Wright a Muslim?'

Posted by: doubtful on August 23, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Did I miss a change in the Constitution about there being no religious test before you're allowed to hold office?
The proper response should be, "Who cares if he is a Muslim."
But to that in today's environment is impossible, if not suicidal.
This country is lost. Really lost...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on August 23, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Calling Obama a "Secret Muslim" is a smokescreen. A political dog whistle. What those rage merchants are REALLY saying when they say "Obama's a Muslim" is that "Obama's a (N-word)."

They'd LOVE to call Obama a (N-word). They'd do it every day on FOX if they could. But, ohhhhh, they're not supposed to be racist (after all, the "real" racists are all over with the NAACP). So they can't use (N-word). And calling Obama a Socialist only works during the Health Care Reform debates. Now that they've got to go for the throat, the anti-Obamites are going for the cultural/religious attack words, and "Muslim" invokes all the correct fears and xenophobia that the rage merchants live for.

I thought you knew this.

Posted by: PaulW on August 23, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

The more underlying problem here seems to be even simpler: how can you convince people that facts are true, and that the truth is something they should care about? Pointing out the facts is completely useless to people who don't care about facts.

Until someone comes up with a good way to convince people that reality matters, delusions will continue to flourish. But people looooooooove their delusions.

Posted by: DH Walker on August 23, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, many Christians are secret fascists. Some are secret worshippers of Mammon. Many secretly hate their neighbors. Many secretly believe in Evolution. Some are secret homosexuals. Even harboring secret paranoid delusions is no obstacle for accepting Jesus as your savior.

So people who accuse the President of being a secret Muslim--despite the total and complete lack of evidence--may be speaking from personal experience of using Christianity to mask their personal devils.

Of course, if it didn't open a can of worms, one might wonder, even if Obama was a secret Muslim, why is that a problem?

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Posted by: gaga94 on August 23, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

"I don't think that's in dispute."
McConnell probably would have , if politely asked , mentioned that Docktor Laura was alluding to him on the air just the other day .
So what also isn't in dispute is that what Docktor Laura , and the Tea Baggeur elites are not questioning (publicly) , is that Obama is presidenting while being somepin she caint say out loud . Now ain't that a shame .

Posted by: FRP on August 23, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

The correct answer is this:

"Look. More people in the U.S believe that:

1] The earth is 6,000 years old.
2] The Rapture will occur in the next 50 years.
3] The U.S and Germany fought Russia in World War II.
4] Angels protect them.
5] Ghosts exist.
6] Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Global Warming is a hoax.
7] FOX News is unbiased.
8] Santa exists. [Admittedly, most are children.]
9] Non-white people are inferior.
10] We found WMDs in Iraq.
11] Elvis Presley is still alive.
12] God determines who wins the Super Bowl.
13] The earth will end in 2012.
14] There really were seven stranded castaways on Gilligan's island.
15] The Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.
16] Diet Coke is good for you.
17] Gay marriage will destroy heterosexual marriage.
18] Men never walked on the moon.
19] Vampires exist among us.
20] Kristen Stewart can act.

So, why on earth would we care that a small percentage of Americans think something as ignorant as Obama is a 'secret Muslim?'"

Posted by: chrenson on August 23, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

PaulW on August 23, 2010 at 10:51
...They'd LOVE to call Obama a (N-word). They'd do it every day on FOX if they could. ...

Said it very directly . I dislike the cutesy NWord formulation . It reminds me of the out of control political correctness of our arch mannerist's , the right wing . You know claiming it is insensitive to be an American while black , and , or Muslim .

Posted by: FRP on August 23, 2010 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

"20] Kristen Stewart can act."

Actually, she can act. Or at least she performed her role in Adventureland quite well.

Posted by: burritoboy on August 23, 2010 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

How is it possible that the same folks that, years ago, were ripping Obama for his association with the United Church of Christ (Pastor Jeremiah Wright sermons dating from 2001 and 2003) now don't know for sure that he's long been a practicing Protestant Christian? Not to reopen that idiotic debate from the 2008 campaign, but this question of Obama's Christianity was stipulated by his right-wing critics a long, long time ago.

Posted by: NealB on August 23, 2010 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

chrenson: "The U.S and Germany fought Russia in World War II."

A few years back I was sitting with a group of smart graduate students at a major research University, and I was floored when it became clear that they all thought Hitler, that the Nazis, were communists.

But I haven't seen a poll that measures how widespread the ignorance is. Can anyone help out?

Posted by: PTate in MN on August 23, 2010 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

BurritoBoy: Kristen Stewart managed all right. But the cock-punching guy stole the movie.

Posted by: chrenson on August 23, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

In response to charges that McConnell secretly prays to a Turtle God some call Gamera, and that he is getting medical treatments to make himself look more and more like his Terrapin Lord, I think we have to take McConnell's at his word when he says he is a Christian, unmodified human.

Posted by: biggerbox on August 23, 2010 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Oy ! It's enough to make Barney Frank gag...were that possible.

Posted by: jerry on August 23, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

To paraphrase an earlier post: that we are even having this discussion is the tragedy. That a "respected" newsperson/journalist on a "major" network allows this politician to spew his lies is what troubles me. I happen to believe that what we are witnessing is the transformation of the United States of America and the rest of the world into a new paradigm. What is happening is that all that is unlike the new is coming up for healing/disinfection. Before healing can occur, the disease must be exposed and diagnosed. Sometimes poisonous cells must be destroyed to allow the new, imaginal cells to grow.

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
peace,
st john

Posted by: st john on August 23, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Good one, Bob. Real good. Can I buy about a pound of whatever it is you're currently smoking ?

Posted by: bob on August 23, 2010 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

The same people who hate Obama because he sat in a Christian church led by Rev. Wright also believe Obama is a Muslim. Try to figure that one out.

Oh, you still believe that "Rev." Wright is a Christian?

You lefties are so cute in your girlish credulity.

There's no hope for anyone who doesn't recognize by now that the United Church of Chips on Their Black Shoulders, or whatever Wright called his fraud of a house of worship, was nothing but a front for the Nation of Islam. Fortunately the alert media picked up on this and they had to move operations elsewhere. I hear the Ramadan celebrations at the White House are pretty heartfelt.

Posted by: Myke K on August 23, 2010 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

McConnell, one can tell, has never been in a fist fight for what he chooses to utter. He otta get out on the streets more often, get knocked to the ground for some of his uttered dribble, and humbled by the opposition - especially if he can't be humbled by election results! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on August 23, 2010 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Don B:

But there is an even bigger problem here. Even if he were a Muslim, my question is, SO WHAT? A Muslim cannot be the president? Why are we treating the idea of being a Muslim as a bad thing? I am not a Muslim and never will be. But if YOU want to be a Muslim, I really do not care as long as you do not force it down my throat.

Why aren't people asking that question?

The "official" rejoinder to that would, of course, be that the concern is with his being a *secret* Muslim, which would call his honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, etc. into question.

That's disingenuous crap, I know. Just saying.

Posted by: Chet on August 23, 2010 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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