Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Birther Trap

The press continues to ask prominent Republicans if President Obama was born in the US and if he is a Christian. This is a trap. No honest answer will be sufficient. On Meet the Press, Speaker Boehner was asked these questions. His answer on Obama's country of birth was: "The state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That's good enough for me." That answer was not good enough for Slate's William Saletan who wrote "For me, lest anyone feel that the speaker was imposing his personal beliefs." Saletan went on to complain that Boehner had not stifled members of the Republican Caucus who have asked that the President instruct the State of Hawaii to release the long form of his birth certificate.

When asked about Obama's religion, Boehner said, "The president says he's a Christian," Boehner said. "I accept him at his word." That one set off Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart who said, "The obvious implication is that there's a possibility the president might be lying. This is offensive and an insult."

Obama's supporters have been using statements like this as a club for the last three years. During the primaries, Secretary of State Clinton received nationwide scorn after saying that Obama was a Christian "as far as I know."

The issue is what Capehart calls "weasel words." The various politicians add them because they don't want to be caught making a false statement about something that they have no direct knowledge of. That is why these questions are traps. The people being asked have no special knowledge. They are relying on others - the State of Hawaii or Obama himself - and they say so.

There are some outstanding questions. The President has released the short form of his birth certificate but not the long form. There is enough supporting evidence to show that the short form is a valid document but it is puzzling why Obama does not release the long form and silence the skeptics? The only difference is that the long form has the signatures of the mother, delivering physician, and witnesses. Can there be anything there that Obama does not want released? The only thing that I can think of is that his mother signed the form with her maiden name which would imply that he was born illegitimately. This is pure speculation and does not affect his qualifications to be president. The only other possibility that I can think of is that he sees this as a personal insult and refuses to release the form out of stubbornness.

Obama's religion is a trickier question. Boehner was not asked if Obama was a Muslim. He was asked if Obama is a Christian? Keep in mind that Obama was raised by an atheist and a lapsed Muslim. He was an adult before "finding Jesus" through the Reverend Wright. I'm a little hazy on the chronology. I don't know if Obama somehow had enough contact with Wright to convert him before joining Wright's church or if he joined the church first. That raises more questions. Did Obama actually have an adult conversion to Christianity or did he simply go through the motions for political reasons? In Chicago politics, being a member of a prominent church is almost a requisite.

Obama's knowledge of Christianity is poor, at best. He has misquoted the bible and confused the old and new testaments. Since dropping out of Wright's church he has not associated himself with a new church.

So there is a very good chance that the President is an agnostic or atheist who is just going through the motions. Speaker Boehner barely knows Obama so all he can do is take the President at his word. For him to go further would be a lie.

That is what makes the question, "Is President Obama a Christian?" such a sneaky trap. The person being asked does not know for certain but the slightest hint of uncertainty is taken as code for "Obama is a Muslim."

Saletan and Capehart manage whip themselves into a frenzy over what they see as insufficient responses but they overlook the real culprit - the reporters asking the questions. Why even ask unless there is some question about the truth? It does not matter how forceful the response, the question itself lingers. If Saletan and Capehart really worried about stopping these rumors they would condemn the reporters for keeping the issues alive. They do not because the questions give them a chance to hammer the Republicans.

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