Ten Miles Square


September 14, 2012 11:30 AM The Continuing Relevance of the Obama Muslim Myth

By Brendan Nyhan

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney issued a misleading statement earlier in the week claiming that the Obama administration’s “first response” to the attacks on the US embassies in Libya and Egypt “was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Romney’s claim was later echoed by Republicans like GOP chairman Reince Preibus and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. But as ABC’s Jake Tapper points out, the statement in question, which originated in the US Embassy in Cairo, actually was released before the attacks, not afterward.

The statement underscores the continuing relevance of the Obama Muslim myth. To be clear, we can’t know Romney’s motives or those of Preibus and Palin. The primary intention is surely to attack Obama as weak or feckless in foreign policy. But the way in which the statement was worded (accusing Obama of sympathizing with Muslims killing Americans) is likely to resonate with members of the public who cling to the still widespread belief that President Obama is a Muslim, which has persisted since the 2008 campaign. In particular, numerous pundits and politicians have used coded language to suggest that Obama has dual loyalties or is not loyal to this country. Here are just a few examples from prominent Republicans:

May 2009: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich alleges on “Fox News Sunday” that there is a “weird pattern” in which Obama administration officials were “prepared to take huge risks with Americans in order to defend terrorists” and suggests that the Obama administration was proposing “welfare” for terrorists. He then claims on “Meet the Press” that the Obama administration’s “highest priority” is to “find some way to defend terrorists.”

June 2009: Senator James Inhofe calls Obama’s Cairo speech “un-American” and says “I just don’t know whose side he’s on.”

February 2010: During a conference call with conservative bloggers, Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) accuses the Obama administration of having a “a terrorist protection policy” and conducting a “jihad to close Guantanamo.”

By contrast, no prominent Democrats attacked the Bush administration for sympathizing with Muslims when it condemned cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that Muslims found offensive. The line of attack didn’t resonate because Bush was seen a conservative Christian. Obama has in some ways been more aggressive and successful than Bush in killing suspected terrorists, including Osama Bin Laden, but he is still treated differently. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that misperceptions about his religion are part of the reason why.

[Cross-posted at Brendan-Nyhan.com]

Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College.


  • avahome on September 15, 2012 8:50 AM:

    Recently a friend sent me an email with this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=tCAffMSWSzY#t=28

    I had run a check on snopes to see if this video was true but came back false....my friend was irate. The words coming out of the Presidents mouth shown in the video...she felt were true. Yes, the video for sure appeared spliced together but Fox news was part of the mix.

    My friend is not religious but people will look and say anything to inflame....I am just clueless.

  • labman57 on September 15, 2012 1:58 PM:

    Yep. It all goes back to the standard ploy that has been part of Republican strategy ever since Obama was elected -- the loaded comments which infer that Obama is not one of us, that his values are "unAmerican", that perhaps he is not even "native-born", that his loyalties are elsewhere, and therefore he cannot be trusted to be our Commander in Chief and Head of State.

    With respect to the proper course of action when the events in Libya and Egypt occurred (assuming Team Romney could manage to get the timeline right), perhaps Romney believes that the U.S. should storm each of these Middle East nations, guns blazing with a "shoot first and to hell with the questions" attitude.

    Sorry Mitt. This is the real world, not a Clint Eastwood movie.

  • Roy E Pearson on September 15, 2012 4:49 PM:

    The issue is Obama is an "Other". Others always have a hard time in the US and have historically. Others can be anyone, at one time it was Catholics. We have never had a Jewish President and Romney is even an other.

    We need as a people to get over this fear of the different. It seems that there is a trend that way in the under 35 crowd.

    The Democrats had been the champions of the Other having at least Nominated a Jewish Candidate for President. If Obama is elected in 2012, I can see a lot of firsts in our party's future.

  • T-Rex on September 16, 2012 9:46 AM:

    Correction, Roy Pearson, nominated a Jew for VICE President. In any case, Bill Clinton, who was a white, southern boy was also accused of having tried to renounce his citizenship -- the GHW Bush team even did an illegal search of his passport files to try to find a smoking gun -- and of being a secret Commie, no matter how moderately he governed. It's GOP SOP: the White House is OURS, OURS, OURS, and anyone else who manages to get into it is an impostor, a usurper, and definitely not ONE OF US. Obama's skin color makes this easier to do, even though they have to use code -- the M word, not the N word.

  • avahome on September 18, 2012 5:11 AM:

    I just saw this article: Fox's Bolling Advances Obama-Muslim Myth http://mediamatters.org/blog/2012/09/18/foxs-bolling-advances-obama-muslim-myth/189961

    I do think the drumbeat will become more intense as Romney campaign falters..........