Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Not That There's Anything Wong With That

Obama's not Muslim, people.

Nothing is more disappointing or amazing to me than seeing a smear campaign from the far right take hold in the average American's mind. We've seen it happen over and over again, from the old Vietnam War-era chestnut of hippies spitting on troops to the modern-era version of the same story: Clinton staffers trashing the White House and ripping W's off of computer keyboards. In case you didn’t know: neither story is true.

I'm not smart enough to know how to take a fake story and sew it onto the American narrative in such a way that no one sees the stitches. But we all know it happens: look at that iconic American myth of the "Wild West," for instance. It's so far removed from the truth, yet we rewrite our own history to match the story, not the fact.

I bring this up because this week I volunteered to drive senior citizens to the polls for early voting. It’s a lot of fun, and you get to meet some interesting, wonderful people. One such person was a vibrant, vivacious lady who lives in the north part of town. All I had to say was “good morning,” and she launched into rapid-fire conversation about Nashville, the news media, politics, you name it. What a fun lady!

She was a hard-boiled Democrat, said she remembered back to “when FDR had to clean up Hoover’s mess. Every time a Republican comes into office they mess things up, and a Democrat has to clean it up and make it right.” Oh, this was a lady after my own heart!

But I was shocked when she said to me:
“You know who scares me? That Muslim-- that Obama.”

I explained to her that Obama is not Muslim, he’s a Christian. She said:

“I don’t believe it! That’s not what I read!”

Let me be clear: this was the third time a senior citizen told me Barack Obama is Muslim.

How does this happen? How does a lie become prevailing truth in the mind of an average American?

It shouldn’t matter whether Barack Obama is Muslim or not. But the sad truth is, to millions of Americans, it does (Or rather, it would). Which makes it all the more difficult to beat back the lie. Because there’s nothing wrong with being Muslim, it just so happens that Barack Obama is not. How do you fight that phantom? You lose either way.

I wonder how the Obama campaign could have tackled this smear better. Appearing with Donnie McClurken was probably a lame attempt to coddle Christian audiences, though it pissed off the GLBT crowd.

The sad reality is, the “Obama is Muslim” lie has legs. And even though it shouldn’t be, for lots of folks it’s a negative. That’s just reality. And I’m starting to wonder if it wouldn’t cost him the election, were he the nominee.