The Washington Post this morning notes that increasing numbers of Americans incorrectly believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim:
The number of Americans who believe — wrongly — that President Obama is a Muslim has increased significantly since his inauguration and now account for nearly 20 percent of the nation’s population…
More than a third of conservative Republicans now say Obama is a Muslim, nearly double the percentage saying so early last year. Independents, too, are now more apt to see the president as a Muslim: Among independents, 18 percent say he is a Muslim, up eight percentage points.
Now ordinarily, I’d throw in some kind of a joke right here, perhaps involving the phrases “not that there’s anything wrong with that” and/or “some of my best friends are…” But please. This is a conspiracy theory, no more and no less.
To those who believe it, “Muslim” appears to have roughly the same connotation as “Jew” to an anti-Semite. At least, that’s what I take from the rumor’s propagators. A secretive religion, plotting to take over the world, now has its filthy claws on the levers of power.
As a historian of ideas, it is downright bizarre to me to watch so close and so perverse a parallel unfold, especially among people who weren’t formerly spewing the same nonsense about Jews. If they didn’t get it from The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, or from Mein Kampf — and I take for granted that they didn’t, because charity demands no less — well then where did it come from?
Now here’s where managed ignorance begins to destroy itself. I disagree with the president on a long, long list of policies and decisions — stimulus spending, health care, Citizens United, civil liberties, surveillance, his Supreme Court nominations… the list probably runs to pages if I think about it. He’s been bad in the areas where I knew he’d be bad, and he’s been even worse in the areas where I thought he might be halfway decent.
But every column-inch devoted to this idiot conspiracy theory forestalls meaningful debate by just that much. Which means we don’t get the political opposition we deserve, Obama’s policies don’t get the scrutiny they so desperately cry out for, and Obama becomes… all the more effective at doing just the things that I wish we could prevent.