Fri 25 Sep, 2009
Tags: Barack Obama, Islam, Racial prejudice
Here’s a disturbing statistic:
In the U.S., 58% of Republicans either believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, or say that they aren’t sure.
This, despite the fact that President Obama has a U.S. birth certificate which has been verified by the Republican governor of the state in which he was born.
This, despite the fact that if the president’s U.S. birth certificate is a forgery, it must represent a massive, and utterly pointless, conspiracy going back to 1961, when newspapers in the city of his birth printed announcements of his (local) birth.
The real question, of course, is why are so many Americans inclined to believe this falsehood about their own president? This is, naturally, fuel to the fire for those who believe that much of the vehement opposition to President Obama is based on his race.
There may be explanations, at least in many cases, which aren’t based on race. At a minimum, however, it seems to me that this meme couldn’t possibly hold such attraction, and be so convincing despite the overwhelming weight of the evidence, unless there were a powerful sense among many Americans that President Obama is, somehow, un-American.
What makes Obama seem un-American, in ways which other presidents have not? Is it simply the suspicion that he could be of foreign birth? That seems unlikely, since that would be circular reasoning. Is it because his father wasn’t American? That’s hardly unusual in American presidents. Having an unusual name is perhaps less common in our chief executives, but that hardly seems sufficient. Is it because Obama has Muslim roots on his father’s side? Perhaps the suspicion that he is secretly a Muslim himself? In that case, why wouldn’t attention focus more on his Muslim connections, rather than the hopeless quest to show that he is of foreign birth?
In light of the lack of other explanations, it seems plausible to me to argue that Obama’s race may be disturbing to many Americans, and that their inability to articulate this feeling leads to nonsensical arguments about matters which can at least be spoken aloud. I think it would be wrong, however, to assume anything about how important a factor this is. It seems likely to me that several factors, including discomfort with race, religion, and foreign ties, may all play a role here.