One If By Land, One If By Sea, One If A Secret Muslim

12 Sep

A brief comment on a small piece by a blogger over at The Economist’s website. It poses Obama’s declining stature among those polled globally and those polled domestically as parallel but mirrored developments. Globally, particularly among Muslims, Obama has become less “exotic,” his failure to make progress on Palestinian issues or close the Guantanamo Bay prison, while he simultaneously escalated the conflict in Afghanistan, has slowly transformed him from a novel, racially-mixed source of hope into just another American President. Meanwhile, says “Lexington,” Obama has become more “exotic” in the eyes of a certain segment of the United States populace, as evidenced by increasing numbers of Americans who claim to either not know what religion Barack Obama belongs to or to believe that he is a Muslim, or at least not a Christian. Interesting parallel developments, but one thing must be made clear. While I am sure there are elements in the “Muslim World” who encourage a dimmer view of President Obama, to the extent that this decrease in popularity is caused by actions taken or not taken by the Obama administration, it has a relationship to the reality of the period from June 2009 (the month of Obama’s much-discussed speech in Cairo) to September 2010. On the other hand, I doubt there is any reasonable argument to be made that Obama has taken any actions which have made him more “Muslim” since his inauguration. This perception is based purely on propaganda.

At its midpoint the piece makes two very dubious leaps of logic.

At his inauguration, Mr Obama said the choice between safety and ideals was “false”. That is not the case, as evidenced by his own decision to keep some especially dangerous suspected terrorists imprisoned indefinitely without trial. What may instead be true is that, to the dismay of liberals, the growing belief that Mr Obama is a Muslim will compel him to be ever more risk-averse when choosing between safety and civil liberty.

First, the fact that the Obama administration is continuing many Bush-era policies on detention and executive power by no means invalidates the statement that the choice between safety and ideals is false. It only shows that Obama is not living up to, or does not believe in, his own statement. The truth of the statement itself is unaffected.

Second, the idea that an increase in the baseless belief that Obama is Muslim makes it a political necessity to sacrifice civil liberties at the altar of “safety” is entirely unconvincing. Those who disapprove of  Obama because they believe him to be Muslim are not basing their opinion on facts or policies. Why would Obama try to woo them by creating policy that pits safety in opposition to civil liberties? Anyone who firmly believes that Obama is a Muslim will either never learn of the administration’s actual policies or will mentally filter or block them out. Looking at the current landscape of American paranoia, it seems likely that anyone holding such beliefs will also feel that Obama is attempting to move the government in a more authoritarian direction. A population that fears imaginary threats to their liberty will hardly warm to a real decrease in civil liberties and increase in executive power, even if this is done with the intention of keeping them safe from their favored bugaboo.

Doubtless, the spread of false impressions of Obama’s personal identity is a political problem. Yet there is no wisdom in changing policy to appease those whose complaints are not in response to real policy. Or to reality, for that matter.

Speaking of being far from reality, Lexington makes another incredible claim: “As the trauma of 9/11 recedes, so have the inhibitions that politicians once showed about exploiting the war against al-Qaeda for partisan advantage.” I may not have the clearest memory of the 2004 election, but as far as I can recall the center of that campaign was about which political party could Keep Us Safe in the War On Terror. The primary change I see is the right becoming more vicious over time.

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4 Responses to “One If By Land, One If By Sea, One If A Secret Muslim”

  1. Trent September 15, 2010 at 3:22 PM #

    “Doubtless, the spread of false impressions of Obama’s personal identity is a political problem. Yet there is no wisdom in changing policy to appease those whose complaints are not in response to real policy. Or to reality, for that matter.”

    That, and the paragraph before it, sorta underscore some thoughts lately I’ve been having about whose opinions really matter in society. Like, what does approval rating really mean anyway? I know there’s impressive research in the poli sci literature where like .7-.8 of it can be measured by a few simple econ indicators and a code yes or code no on whether the U.S. is at war. But what does that approval rating really matter? What I think counts as “matter” is, “does it help the President secure votes in Congress?”.

    • Trent September 16, 2010 at 10:00 AM #

      I think this post is great though. It’s easy to read editorials like that and not realize all the embedded assumptions within them, like “5-10 percentage points differences in replies to poll questions about the President’s ethnicity has a big effect on a President’s political capital and will force compromise with an irrational opposition.” That isn’t to deny the very real bargaining with the opposition that the President and their party do, especially when they do face disunity in their ranks, but I think it has a different form than the over simplistic way this article tries to portray it.

      “Anyone who firmly believes that Obama is a Muslim will either never learn of the administration’s actual policies or will mentally filter or block them out”

      Exactly! It’s the same people who have no idea what a continuation of previous administrations Obama’s national security policies are, and also insist on claiming what a die hard socialist he is. Another one of my random, trying to be non-partisan thoughts on politics is, that often ideological opponents believe each other’s rhetoric too much. Like all the idiot conservatives who claim they’re pure free marketers when, when it comes down to behavior in practice, just about none are. But it’s easy to look at that from the left and see a mess of delusional people who threaten dear things. Everyone’s at least a little socialist or a little capitalist, it’s all a spectrum not two stupid categories. To its credit, you hear fewer total condemnations of capitalism on the left, and I think there’s more of an understanding that a mixed system is best.

      • Trent September 16, 2010 at 10:02 AM #

        Imo, Lexington’s the sloppiest of all the historical pseudonymn weekly regional editorials in the economist. Though his one about the world trade center mosque was excellent.

      • TV ecHo September 16, 2010 at 2:18 PM #

        I’d like to eventually do a bit of work on the idea that capitalism can’t truly be seen as an ideology, more as an activity that can be put to different ends…

        It’s been very difficult to get Park51 commentary wrong…that issue is one where you one can easily a line between people you might often disagree with but who are interesting in rational discussion and those who simply shouldn’t be listened to.

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