Thursday, October 23, 2008

They Helped

Steve Waldman notes how the GOP helped fuel the rumors about Barack Obama being a Muslim.

One of the most striking parts of Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was his accusation that Republicans have helped spread the rumor that Sen. Obama is Muslim, and turned the word into a smear. “I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he’s Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists,” he said.

Some Republicans took umbrage at the comment, saying John McCain and Republicans haven’t directly made such an accusation. Jonah Goldberg, a writer for The National Review, said it was a “low and dishonest blow,” and asked: “Is there really much evidence that the GOP or the McCain campaign have had anything to do with the stories that Obama is a Muslim?”


Did the McCain campaign intentionally allow the rumor to spread while having Sen. McCain personally take the high ground? It wouldn’t be the first time a presidential candidate took that approach, but there’s no evidence so far that Sen. McCain or anyone in his campaign opted for that as a strategy.

More likely, something else was at play. For Sen. McCain to have really stopped the rumor, he would have had to confront the Conservative Media Establishment, which has always been suspicious of Sen. McCain and which he desperately needs to get elected.

It’s nearly impossible to know exactly how we ended up with less than half of Republicans believing Sen. Obama when he says he’s Christian and one in five McCain supporters affirmatively believing that Sen. Obama is Muslim. Tellingly, Colin Powell’s complaint was not only that activists said made the Obama-is-a-Muslim claim but that “it is permitted to be said” by “members of the party.” In all likelihood, it was the establishment conservatives who made the ground fertile for the rumors and the more extreme players who then planted the seeds. Once the poisonous plant began to grow, those in the conservative establishment did little to uproot it and sometimes gave it water.

Standing back and watching what happens is called “abetting.”

But Gen. Powell’s question still resonates: what if he was?