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.