President Obama is not a foreigner. He is not secretly a Muslim. Those are the facts, but they do not seem to matter in many quadrants of the Republican Party.
During a recent focus group conducted by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, about half of a group of Iowa Republicans said they believed that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. Republican Party leaders seem more than happy to let such misconceptions live and flourish.
Yes, Sarah Palin, who was an enthusiastic “birther,” has decided that the supposed issue of Mr. Obama’s citizenship is, as she put it the other day, “a distraction.” But the speaker of the House, John Boehner, made it clear on the NBC program “Meet the Press” last Sunday that he had no interest in quashing these fantasies or stopping his fellow Republicans from accusing Mr. Obama of lying about his citizenship and his faith.
Pressed by the show’s host, David Gregory, Mr. Boehner said — grudgingly — that an assurance from the government of Hawaii that Mr. Obama was born an American citizen was “good enough for me.” And that when Mr. Obama says he is a Christian, “I’ll take him at his word.” But he said it was “not my job” to try to do anything about it. “The American people have the right to think what they think,” he said.
That apparently includes Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, a Tea Party freshman, who drew loud cheers and guffaws at a recent conservative gathering when he said, “I’m fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth, and I have the birth certificate to prove it.” Asked about that remark, Mr. Boehner said “the gentleman was trying to be funny.”
Leave aside the fact that Mr. Boehner and other Republicans don’t hesitate to tell Americans what to think on any number of subjects, from evolution to prayer in schools. It is in fact his job to combat the ignorance, xenophobia and bigotry behind the birther faction.
If Mr. Boehner really wanted to lead, he could make this obvious but important point: Being a Muslim is not a disqualification for being president of the United States. This sort of racism stained American politics in earlier centuries. It has no place in this one.