The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
We already know the numbers. Pew finds that 18% of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. A new Newsweek poll, taken after the controversy over the New York mosque, places that figure at 24%. Even if he's not a Muslim, Newsweek finds, 31 percent think it's "definitely or probably" true that Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world."
When the focus is narrowed to Republicans, a Harris poll finds 57 percent of party members believe he is a Muslim, 22% believe he "wants the terrorists to win," and 24% believe he is the Antichrist.
These figures sadden me with the depth of thoughtlessness and credulity they imply. A democracy depends on an informed electorate to survive. An alarming number of Americans and a majority of Republicans are misinformed. The man who was swept into office by a decisive majority is now considered by many citizens to be the enemy. Some fundamentalists believe he is the Antichrist named by Jesus in the Bible. [Yes, I know Jesus never mentioned the Antichrist, but there's a video online proving that he did. He was punning in Hebrew -- or was it Aramaic? -- on the name Barack Obama. ]
This many Americans did not arrive at such conclusions on their own. They were persuaded by a relentless process of insinuation, strategic silence and cynical misinformation. Most of the leaders in this process have been cautious to avoid actually saying Obama is a Muslim. They speak in coded words and allow the implications to sink in. I recently watched Glenn Beck speaking at great length about Obama's Muslim father, but you would not have learned from Beck that the father, who Obama met only once, was not a practicing Muslim in any sense.
Rush Limbaugh has told his listeners he can find "no evidence" that Obama is a Christian. In Paul Krugman's op-ed column in the New York Times on 8/29, Limbaugh is quoted: "Imam Hussein Obama, is probably the best anti-American president we've ever had." Limbaugh obviously doesn't believe Obama is an imam. How many of his listeners realize that? Is he concerned that his words will be taken seriously?
These opinions have an agenda. They seek to demonize the Obama Presidency and mainstream liberal politics in general. The conservatism they prefer is not the traditional conservatism of such figures as Taft, Nixon, Reagan, Buckley or Goldwater. It is a frightening new radical fringe movement, financed by such as the newly notorious billionaire Koch brothers, whose hatred of government extends even to opposition to tax funding for public schools.
The money behind the movement has been shaken in its boots by the recent exposure of criminal activities in the money markets. Our economy has collapsed and it seemed clear to many Americans that the unregulated greed of Wall Street trading, especially in derivatives, was responsible. These were not investments in industry, the economy or the future. They were investments in a bold Ponzi scheme which defrauded home owners into fronting for a pyramid of worthless loans. Citizens lost their homes, investment houses went bankrupt, but the criminals responsible continued to pay themselves multi-million-dollar bonuses.
From the same column by Krugman: "Wall Street has turned on Mr. Obama with a vengeance: last month Steve Schwarzman, the billionaire chairman of the Blackstone Group, the private equity giant, compared proposals to end tax loopholes for hedge fund managers with the Nazi invasion of Poland."
Say what? Proposals to end loopholes? Read that again. Our recession and the collapse of the housing and jobs markets squeezed through those loopholes. And if you agree with the Democratic attempts to close them, you are compared to Hitler? Republicans in Washington vote nearly as a block against financial reform. Shouldn't the implications be clear to an informed electorate?
This process may soon be arriving at a moment of truth. The new issue of Vanity Fair mentions in its profile of Sarah Palin, as a casual aside, that Glenn Beck has booked the Dena'ina Center, the largest venue in Anchorage, for the date of September 11, 2010. What do you think that means? It could mean Beck simply wants to hold a rally in the home state of the woman who shared his podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous speech.
Beck says he chose that date without realizing its significance. But it cannot be a coincidence that he has chosen 9/11. Nor does it take special insight to connect that date with Palin's many statements about the "Ground Zero Mosque" and the even more pointed "9/11 Mosque." The association is obvious: "9/11" feeds into "mosque" feeds into "Muslims" feeds into the misperception that Obama is a Muslim. Beck and Palin speak about "taking back America." The buried message is that they will take it back from Muslims. This is a heartless misuse of the tragedy of 9/11 and its victims.
If Beck had planned to come to Anchorage on another date, it wouldn't have excited much notice. But any meeting in Alaska on 9/11 without Palin also present will be anticlimactic. It's too far to go not to feature her. The symbolic date of 9/11 invests this event with the inescapable possibility that he and Palin plan to announce their Presidential candidacy for 2012.
This is their privilege, and is not exactly unexpected. What is inescapable, given the timing, is that their candidacy would benefit from the paranoia already infecting so many Americans about Obama's fictitious Islamic religion. Palin and Beck have so far both been content to let this process work without specific comment on their part. Their silence is a symptom of a cancer infecting American democracy. Our political immune system has only one antibody, and that is the truth.
The time is here for responsible Americans to put up or shut up. I refer specifically to those who have credibility among the guileless and credulous citizens who have been infected with notions so carefully nurtured. We cannot afford to allow the next election to proceed under a cloud of falsehood and delusion.
We know, because they've said so publicly, that George W. Bush, his father and Sen. John McCain do not believe Obama is a Muslim. This is the time -- now, not later -- for them to repeat that belief in a joint statement. Other prominent Republicans such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also certainly do not believe it. They have a responsibility to make that clear by subscribing to the statement. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh must join, or let their silence indict them. Limbaugh in particular must cease his innuendos and say, flat out, whether he believes the President is a Muslim or not. Yes or no. Does he have evidence, or does he have none? Yes or no.
To do anything less at this troubled time in our history would be a crime against America.
[ 11:39 p.m. 9/1/1010: Many readers have made the same point: What if Obama were a Muslim? What would be wrong with that? There would be nothing wrong. There is no religious test in this nation for holders of office. This is not a "Christian nation," although you often hear that, because of what is specified in the Constitution. America was founded by refugees from religious persecution, and the Founding Fathers deliberately wrote in safeguards to prevent an Established Religion.