The headline caught my eye — “Right wing plays Muslim card against Obama” — since it was such an obvious attempt to smear all conservatives as, not racists, but religious-ists. As you now, while a conservative radio host did make a speech in which he emphasized Obama’s actual, real, true middle name, McCain was quick to reject the implications behind that speech. In addition, some of the earliest attacks on Obama’s Muslim heritage came from the Clinton campaign, not the Right.
Given all the nasty implications in a seven word headline, I was interested to see how the rest of the article stacked up. It pretty much matched the headline, since it was a patchwork of half truths, outright falsehoods, and sleazy innuendos. Here’s a little fisk of one of the Chron’s front page stories:
When a conservative talk show host introduced Sen. John McCain at an Ohio rally this week and referred to his possible opponent by his full name – “Barack Hussein Obama” – he highlighted a probable attack strategy, should Obama get the Democratic nomination: American xenophobia. [Please note my comments above, to the effect that the emphasis on Obama's religious heritage started as a Clinton strategy and that McCain has gone on record to distance himself from this approach. Also, while there is no doubt that Cunningham emphasized the Hussein part of Obama's name, this paragraph is so disingenuously written that it makes it sound as if any reference to Obama's middle name has become off limits.]
If the ascendancy of Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic race shows that Americans’ attitudes toward race and gender have evolved, the latest round of media images alluding – incorrectly – to an overseas Muslim upbringing for Obama will test the degree to which Americans fear foreigners in a post-Sept. 11 world. Obama is a Christian who never worshiped at a mosque and was raised in a secular household. [To the extent all the statements about Obama's non-Muslim upbringing are asserted as absolute, inviolate truths, this is simply wrong. While Obama was not raised as a strict Muslim, was not educated in a Madrassa, and does not now profess to be a Muslim, he was definitely given instruction in Islam during his time in Indonesia and attended mosques. This, coupled with his father's Muslim background is sufficient to make him a Muslim, if not in his own eyes, in the eyes of ] He attends the United Church of Christ.
Nevertheless, these allusions raise new issues for Americans accustomed to presidential candidates with WASP-sounding names. About 48 percent of the respondents to a February 2007 Pew Research Center poll said they would be “less likely” to support a candidate who is Muslim; 48 percent said it made no difference. The same poll found that 50 percent of respondents would be less likely to support a candidate 70 or older; McCain is 71.
The Muslim allusions “do resonate with people,” said Karen Hanretty, an unaffiliated GOP consultant who formerly worked for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. “The vast majority of voters are Protestant or Catholic, and it is unfamiliar to them.”
She predicted that the incorrect Muslim references to Obama will continue [Except for the debunked claim that Obama attended a radical madrassa, everything else this article refers to as an "incorrect" Muslim reference is, in fact, correct. Obama does have a Muslim middle name. He did receive Islamic instruction. He did attend mosques. While none of these statements may reflect the radical Christian he is today, none are incorrect.], but probably wouldn’t emanate from the McCain campaign or the national GOP. Instead, they would flourish anonymously on the Internet or be pushed by independent organizations not connected to the candidates. [Did you notice that the article, now in its fifth paragraph, never explicitly mentions the fact that Sen. McCain explicitly rejected any attempts to attack Obama by implying that he is a practicing Muslim?]
Rumors on the Web
The anti-Muslim baiting has shadowed the Obama campaign for more than a year, when a widely circulated, yet untraceable, e-mail stated he was Muslim. The Obama campaign thinks enough of the power of these rumors that part of the campaign Web site is dedicated to debunking them, using headings such as “Barack is not and never has been a Muslim.” [This is actually an interesting statement from the Obama camp. What religion is a child? His mother and birth father were committed leftists, so their God was probably Communism. He was raised in Indonesia at a school that gave him Muslim religious instruction. His stepfather took him to mosques. At any time, someone could accurately have referred to him as "that Muslim little boy" or, given his Mom's views, "that little atheist boy." The fact is, his childhood religious affiliations, imposed upon him before he reached the age of reason, are irrelevant given that, as an adult, he instead embraced radical Christianity, not Islam. The more accurate statement probably would have been that, "While Barack was exposed to some Muslim education as a child, he is and remains a committed Christian."] The contents of the anonymous e-mails also have been debunked by various media outlets.
Still, for much of the last year, the Muslim whispers have largely passed below the mainstream media radar. But the allusions and images have intensified in recent days, much of them expressed in a cultural shorthand for anti-Muslim sentiment and preying on post-Sept. 11 fears, analysts said.
A 2006 photo of Obama in Kenya wearing traditional Somali dress, including a turban, was leaked to the online Drudge Report, and quickly picked up by mainstream outlets. At a McCain rally Tuesday in Ohio, conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham three times referred to “Barack Hussein Obama” – a none-too-subtle reference to the late Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, analysts said. McCain denounced the remarks afterward. [Ah! At last, we've reached paragraph 8 and, considering that the article attempts to paint all right wingers as Islamaphobes ready to kill at the drop of a hat, we finally get what should have been in paragraph one -- the frontrunner's repudiation of smear tactics.]
This week, the Tennessee Republican party sent an online memo to supporters entitled “Anti-Semites for Obama,” saying Americans should be concerned about “the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States.” [And this is absolutely true, not because Obama had some instruction in Islam as a 9 year old, but because he is a Leftist associated with an antisemitic, black supremacist church.]
The memo highlighted recent praise of Obama by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of anti-Semitic remarks. (Obama denounced Farrakhan in Tuesday’s televised debate with Clinton.) [But he's not denouncing Wright, is he?]
The memo also featured the photo of Obama in the Somali outfit over a caption saying, Obama is “pictured dressed in Muslim* attire in a 2006 visit to Africa.” At the bottom of the Web page next to the corresponding asterisk, the Tennessee GOP admitted that it wasn’t actually Muslim attire but “rather Somali-tribal garb.” [That was, in fact, a stupid tactic, although it certainly made visual sense given the article's thesis. Travelers often dress in local garb and, unlike the Palestinian kufiyah, which has become a stand-alone political statement, other garb from Muslim communities doesn't have any political odor attached -- it's just local color.]
No response from RNC
Republican National Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay declined to respond whether the party would refer to Obama by his full name, saying, “This election will be decided on the important issues facing this country, and that’s how our party intends to win. At the end of the day, voters will reject the Democratic agenda of massive government spending, higher taxes and retreat in the war on terror.” [Get that? Again, Obama's given, legal name is off limits for the debate. This is PC gone mad.]
McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said Wednesday that “Sen. McCain has been clear that he rejects those sorts of tactics. He wants the campaign to be about the issues.” [At last! Given McCain's prominence in the campaign -- he is, after all, the inevitable Republican candidate -- the story took long enough to get around to this explicit statement about McCain's views on this subject.]
Still, even mainstream outlets are chiming in. This week, Time magazine blogger Mark Halperin outlined a 16-point analysis titled “Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama That Clinton Cannot.” Point No. 11: “Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama’s unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.” [Why can't Clinton do that? As I noted at the top of this article, she's already done so more than a year ago.]
“It’s Islamophobia,” said Dina Ibrahim, an assistant professor of broadcast studies at San Francisco State who is Arab and Muslim. “Stick a turban on somebody and call them a bad guy.” [Well, the fact is that certain Muslims do have a little problem with violence, but I freely concede that Obama is not a Muslim, and that my problems with him have nothing to do with his middle name or his childhood exposure to Islam.]
So what’s wrong with calling Obama by his full name? “Because Americans are overly sensitive of terrorists, and they’ve been trained to think that every Muslim is a terrorist,” said Ibrahim. [How dumb do they think we are?]
Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh – who often calls Obama by his full name – dismissed such fears as political correctness. On his syndicated radio program Wednesday, Limbaugh blasted McCain for apologizing about Cunningham’s remarks, saying, “What if John McCain’s middle name was Adolf instead of Sidney?” [You go, Rush!]
E-mails have legs
No matter what commentators left or right are saying, the Muslim-alluding e-mails continue to travel online. [The nature of emails like this is that we truly don't know their origin. Given Clinton's campaign tactics, it's just as likely that the come from her camp. Why does the article imply that the emails are an evil, racist, Right-wing phenomenon?]
Lori McKinnon, a 43-year-old suburban Dallas resident who nearly always votes for Republicans for president but is now volunteering for Obama, said, “Everyone gets that Muslim e-mail down here. It’s a really big deal.”
But Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut said, “The remarks may be inflammatory, but there is such a broad acceptance of Obama that it’s doubtful they would do much harm to him. It could whip up the extreme right, but that’s about it.”
“I think the question (of such allusions resonating with voters) has already been answered. Voters have looked at that stuff and said, ‘Why are people talking about that?’ ” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a Democratic Party superdelegate who supports Obama. “He’s not anti-Semitic. He’s not a Muslim. But he respects the religion of Islam.”
It’s a lousy story and it’s a hit piece on the Right. More than that, it sets up a straw man that allows the media, again, to avoid actually looking at the real Obama: the man who wants to disarm America; who expressly rejects choosing judges who actually apply the law, as opposed to contemplating their liberal navels; who intends to spend America into a stagnant European style economy; who has the stench of Chicago politics and political favoritism hanging about him; who intends instantly to withdraw from Iraq, thereby snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; who deeply admires one of the loudest black voices touting antisemitism, anti-Americanism and black supremacy; who has a bad habit of speaking out of both sides of his mouth; whose wife and mother dislike America and all that it stands for; and who has the most liberal voting record in the Senate.
By the way, that’s just a partial list of things both conservative and moderate Americans should fear when it comes to Obama. The middle name issue is a straw man — it’s not the real thing. We don’t need to fear “Obama the Muslim,” who doesn’t exist, except for purposes of newspaper smears. We do need to fear Obama the uber-liberal and the man who surrounds himself by people who hate America, who hate capitalism, who hate whites, and who hate Jews.
(Incidentally, the only election attack that I know of that was truly a direct religious attack, as opposed to all the innunedo contained in this article, came from Democrats, not Republicans.)
UPDATE: Wolf Howling, in addition to discussing the nexus between McCain’s financing problems and Obama’s political/legal manipulations, has a great round-up of articles explaining why Obama is a problem — and none of them involve his middle name.