Just one week after the mid-term elections, President Obama touched down today for a visit to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Many Americans still believe Obama is a Muslim himself, which colors their view of him and his patriotism. What I want to know is whether Obama’s Republican opponents will set the record straight, or further exploit this falsehood for their own political gain.
To me, it wouldn’t matter whether Obama is Muslim. It bears no relationship to his abilities or love of country. But, according to public opinion surveys, large numbers of Americans still believe otherwise, and the president’s “opponents” clearly know this and have long tapped into people’s fears to oppose the president, no matter his stated beliefs or policies.
Indeed, in recent months, The White House has gone out of its way to “prove” the president’s deep Christian faith to counter this misinformation. But, even with that, people like Glenn Beck have cast aspersions at the president’s brand of Christianity. No matter the steps Obama takes, his opponents attack.
This week’s edition of TIME magazine has on its cover John Boehner, the presumed new Speaker of the House of Representatives. On the heels of the mid-term elections, Boehner has pledged to work on behalf of the American people, bring more humility and transparency to his post and Congress, and be more inclusive of the Democratic minority. He and others in Washington, D.C. have said they’ve heard the American people: get to work.
Thus, there is no better time than today – this very day – for Boehner and his colleagues to demonstrate their commitment to their mission. They should publicly honor Obama’s visit to Indonesia and, in doing so, forswear any more dirty politics involving the president’s faith.
If the country is to have any chance to make progress in these trying times, then politicians must end their crass demonizing of one another and engage more forthrightly in the genuine policy debates about how we can move ahead. Let such disagreements and debates flourish; that’s democracy. And make no mistake these debates will be heated and emotional as there are real issues at stake; but that’s also part of democracy. But, let the debaters stop the mistruths, innuendoes and spread of falsehoods that only breed cynicism and fan the flames of fear.
Trust, or the lack of it, is at the core of the country’s inability to make progress. Who can people trust is the number one issue we face today – who can they trust to create safe spaces for us to engage in public discourse without toxic acrimony and divisiveness; who can they trust to focus on issues that matter to them; and who can they trust to take action that is relevant to their lives.
During his campaign for president, John F. Kennedy sought to inoculate himself from those who feared a Catholic in The White House. Today, a single speech or series of public activities won’t silence the questions about Obama’s faith. Instead, too many people give in to the temptation to scapegoat all Muslims for what a relatively few have done. Only Obama’s opponents themselves can put an end to the demagoguery and fear-mongering. On this very day, while Obama is in Indonesia, his opponents should squelch the dirty politics and rumors once and for all.