Of Ignorance, Courage and the Lack of It

Mississippi and Alabama Republican voters, half of them — half! — think President Obama is a Muslim.

We liberals find that appalling. Any flavor of human would, I think, find that horrifying.

But a vaunted liberal helped spread this ignorance. When Hillary Clinton, during her long primary contest with Obama, was asked if Obama is a Christian, she said, “As far as I know he’s a Christian.”

What a calculating, pusillanimous, inhuman answer. It was Clinton’s low point, as far as I was concerned. She chose political advantage over being a decent person. And when leaders don’t stand up, the rest of us have few examples.

Many of us liberals were, rightly I think, sickened by Mitt Romney’s and Rick Sanctimonious’s cowardly refusal to excoriate Rush Limbaugh for his wretched comments about Sandra Fluke. But did Hillary Clinton show any more courage than that when asked about Obama’s religion?

Want to see a man of courage, a decent man, dealing with something like this? Colin Powell, on Meet The Press, during that same 2008 campaign. He says he’s troubled by his party allowing it to be said that Obama is a Muslim. And then he says:

“The correct answer is he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian, he’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no — that’s not America.”

Would that more of our public figures had Powell’s courage and compassion. We might not be such a nation of ignorance.

(BTW, I use this clip — and it’s well worth watching the whole thing — with my clients to show the impact an example provides. Watch Powell tell the story of the Arlington headstone. It illustrates his point so compellingly.)

— Bruce Benidt

Victoria’s Secret

In a star-studded pro-Norm Coleman NRSC attack ad, ex-Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson paints Al Franken as being unfit for celebrity endorsements, noting “We don’t all write dirty jokes for Playboy.”

True enough. But it’s also worth noting that celebrities don’t all label U.S. Senators as “the anti-Christ,” which is what Ms. Jackson apparently has written about Senator Barack Obama, according to the Huffington Post:

“I don’t want a political label,” she wrote on her website, “but Obama bears traits that resemble the anti- Christ and I’m scared to death that un- educated people will ignorantly vote him into office.”

Later in the posting she wrote: “We must in all seriousness ask if Barack Hussein Obama could be a Muslim terrorist sympathizer or a Marxist mole. His closest friends include Communists, domestic and Muslim terrorists, racists and convicted felons. In his book Audacity of Hope, Barack Hussein Obama says, ‘I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.” (emphasis added)

Senator Coleman, with all due respect, this is your character witness?

– Loveland

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The Terror of Ignorance

I’m frightened of the people who are frightened of having Barack Obama in the White House because they believe, or say they believe, things that are nonsense. They’re not patriots. They’re not responsible citizens. They’re willing pawns of demagogues who have no interest in participatory democracy. I’m shocked by Gayle Quinnell of Shakopee (I lived there for a year or so — I won’t move back) who called Sen. Barack Obama a terrorist and a Muslim and an Arab at the McCain campaign event in Lakeville yesterday.

This was in Minnesota. Where we like to tell ourselves we have good schools, an informed electorate, a state that works.

Dislike and speak out against and vote against Obama because you don’t like his health-care plan or his liberalism or even his race. That would be racist, but honest, saying I won’t vote for Obama because he’s black. He is black. If you can’t handle that, you don’t have to vote for him. But to swallow the spurious crap that the McCain slime machine and its right-wing fellow travelers are putting out, to uncritically inhale these lies — he’s an Arab, he’s a Muslim, he’s a terrorist — means you aren’t doing your patriotic duty as a citizen of a free country (country first, anyone?) to engage your brain and make the informed choice Thomas Jefferson expected was the least we could do as beneficiaries of an experiment in democracy that millions of people have died to create and preserve.

There are many ways to harm the United States of America. Not being vigilant against terrorists is one of them. Letting the country rot from within through ignorance is another. It’s insidious, this enemy within. It masquerades as fine upstanding people while it meets in cells that trade misinformation and feed prejudice. Obama is a Muslim, they say to one another. And nobody says, “Hmm, maybe we should look into this, inform ourselves, engage our critical thinking faculties and learn about this guy and decide for ourselves.” No, Obama is a Muslim. My fellow cell-member told me so. (And, of course — so what if he’s a Muslim? The Jefferson crowd never said only Christians need apply — in fact, that’s precisely what they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to get away from. But members of these terrifying little cells don’t know that, because they scheme in the dark, protecting their ignorance and beliefs from the light of day, from the light of knowledge.)

Come on, Gayle. Do a little thinking. A little reading. Do your duty. Put your country first. You don’t have to vote for Obama, but you do have to open your mind if you’re going to be a deserving recipient of what Jefferson helped create and what you would, I imagine, say the men and women dying and being maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting for.

And let’s talk about terrorism — using terror for political ends. Who’s using fear as a weapon? Yesterday a fragment of McCain’s honor revisited his body and caused him to say Obama is a “decent person” and to say he should be given respect. McCain did not, however, caught in the Rovian cesspool that he has allowed Steve Schmidt to make of his campaign, stand up like an officer and a gentleman and say to Gayle Quinnell, the person sitting in darkness, “Ma’am, you are wrong. Barack Obama is not a Muslim — not that there would be anything wrong with that. But get your facts straight, my friend. If you’re going to vote for me I want it to be a vote cast with knowledge and good heart.” McCain didn’t do that. He’s using the fear that slinks in this dull woman’s mind. He’s fanning it. Who’s using fear as a weapon? Hillary Clinton stood by in the primaries when the lie that Obama was not a Christian was circulating. She said, “as far as I know…” he’s not a Muslim. She did not stand up and say “that’s a lie, and I won’t be any part of benefiting from it. That’s not how America works.” John McCain is now standing beside Hillary Clinton in that musty rank corner of the basement where cowards gather in little cells. All that it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to say nothing. John McCain is not saying enough. Gayle Quinnell is wasting the America so many have fought to preserve.

Terror is stalking the land. But it’s not old, and it doesn’t live only in the past acts of a college professor named Ayers. It lurks behind the flag the ignorant are waving, and it lurks behind the campaign that won’t stand up and put country first.

— Bruce Benidt

(photo from AFP/Getty Images) grants for college fine