Thursday, August 19, 2010
Day 231- الشهادة
Dear Mr. President,
At today's press gaggle three numbers were mentioned by the press. 500,000- the number of unemployment claims filed last week, the worst in 2010. 50,000- the number of US troops still in Iraq. And 18- the percentage of Americans who believe that you are Muslim, according to a new Pew poll. Worsening unemployment, the nuance of ending a war, and an poll illustrating that a significant number of Americans (and 31% of Republicans) are not only ill-informed, they're stubborn about it. You weren't at the Press Gaggle, Mr. President, but I'll bet I don't have to tell you which got the most discussion and interest from the press. Why is it that this story just won't quit? That members of Congress can feed it and still be taken seriously? I think it's probably because every time the White House is confronted with this rumor, instead of saying "next question", the press secretary (or, in this case, his deputy) sputter for 5 minutes about your devout Christianity. The President prays, every day. The President speaks to religious advisors, every day. The President speaks with Christian leaders for advice.
I didn't vote for you because I think you're Christian. Your job isn't to be correctly perceived by every yahoo who thinks you were born in Kenya and here to bring about the End Times. No one is going to stop believing that you're a Muslim if they are already convinced it is so. You can't prove faith. Gibbs and Burton can profess your faith before God and the Press Corps every day and it isn't going to change the minds of those 18%. Anderson Cooper got on TV and showed the world proof that your birth certificate is your birth certificate and I am confident that it made exactly no difference with those who still doubt your citizenship. (Though, to be fair, it may have changed their opinion of Anderson Cooper.)
The media is perhaps to blame for devoting so much energy and discussion to this topic. One reporter seemed to imply that the perception was the White House's fault- that somehow the American people weren't able to know their President. I think this, and other suggestions from the press that you ought to talk about your faith more in public, are absurd. The amount of information about you available to Americans is unprecedented. As far as I know, polls didn't indicate a significant number of people suspected President Bush or Clinton or Reagan to be Muslim. This perception is allowed to continue because of xenophobia and racism. People are afraid of the unfamiliar and your political opponents have been trying to paint you as unfamiliar since you started in politics. It isn't something that people need to be persuaded to change their minds about because it isn't rational. It isn't the White House's responsibility to combat this. The perception of you as a Muslim goes up as your poll numbers go down. I don't think people are having new doubts about your Christianity, I think your declining popularity has made it more socially acceptable to suggest their crazy theories out loud. Call a spade a spade (and a racist a racist) and move on.
But this isn't entirely the media's fault, or entirely their responsibility to correct. The discussion about the Pew poll was some of the least guarded interaction between the Deputy Press Secretary and the Press corps. Robert Gibbs and Bill Burton are constantly spinning, obfuscating, splitting hairs, and spewing talking points. Try having a frank conversation with the press about something that actually matters- like the economic outlook or the state of our foreign relations. Instead of coming up with the right sound byte to reassure people that you've got this under control, be honest. Be honest about what challenges we face and how much of the responsibility to overcome them is up to us and the important changes we need to make in our own lives. The White House needs to find a way to connect with people honestly, and the swatting wildly at ridiculous rumors while spinning the latest unemployment numbers (while trying to help half of the Senate run for re-election) just isn't going to cut it.
People do need honesty and access, but not because they doubt your religion. Please, don't let your administration get caught up in this nonsense when we have so many graver concerns ahead.