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Hillary:  Obama May be Muslim
by Julian X  /  non-fiction  /  3 Mar 2008

In just the latest in a long line of attempts to smear Obama, Hillary Clinton has herself implied that Obama just might be a Muslim.

Asked about her opponent's religious faith on 60 Minutes by reporter Steve Kroft, Hillary took a page from Mike Huckabee, who earlier in the campaign to be the Republican presidential nominee said that he would leave to voters the matter of whether Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was a Christian.  Huckabee began to take flak from his refusal to state that Romney was Christian, since it played on religious bias against Mormons, and Huckabee eventually had to recant and state publicly that Romney was a Christian.

Now Hillary, asked about the persistent rumors, long circulated via e-mail forwards, that Obama is a Muslim, has played a similar rhetorical game.

Here's the exchange on 60 Minutes:

STEVE KROFT: You don't believe that Senator Obama's a Muslim?

HILLARY CLINTON: Of course not. I mean that's, you know, that, there is no basis for that. You know, I take him on the basis of what he says, and, you know, there isn't any reason to doubt that.

KROFT: You said you take Sen. Obama at his word that he's not a Muslim...

CLINTON: Right, right..

KROFT: …you don't believe that he's a Muslim.

CLINTON: No! No! Why would I? There's nothing to base that on. As far as I know.

"As far as I know."  So Hillary leaves open the possibility that Obama may be a secret Muslim, a Manchurian candidate trying to gain control over the federal executive branch, just like those e-mails have said for over a year.

Lest we think this much ado about nothing, ABC's Jake Tapper has pointed out that Obama would have been massacred by the press had he given the same response to a similarly ridiculous accusation about Clinton, such as that she was linked to the death of Vince Foster.

For the record, Obama is a devout Christian who attends church more regularly than the Clintons and came to national attention for his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, wherein he passionately said that those in blue states still worship an Almightly God.

By itself, Hillary's phrase might seem like a mild verbal gaff -- even despite how well it mirrors Huckabee's weak refusals that Romney didn't qualify as a Christian.  Except that the Clinton campaign has been trying for months to push Obama's possible Muslim status in various insidious ways.

Those e-mails claiming Obama is a Muslim have been forwarded around the world -- and repeated by some conservative bloggers and talk radio personalities -- long before Clinton announced her candidacy.  As Obama's opponent, we might not expect her to spend all her time condemning them.  But we might be surprised to find out that the Clinton campaign acknowledged, in early December, that it had forwarded such messages.  It's unknown just how frequently this was done, but at least two people had to resign over it -- after the damage had been done.

A more overt example came later that month, as Clinton surrogates began to talk up Obama's Muslim ties.  When Bob Kerrey came forward to endorse Hillary, he snuck in some nasty jabs at Obama:  "I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim," Kerrey said.  Challenged, Kerrey said -- with a straight face, no less -- that his intent was to praise Obama, adding that people were "acting as if he's an Islamic Manchurian candidate [because] he spent a little time in a secular madrassa."  There's no evidence that Obama has ever gone to a madrassa.

Note how Kerrey managed to bring up a conspiracy theory against Obama, and seem to lend it weight, while simultaneously refusing to endorse it.  Richard Nixon is closely identified with this rhetorical pattern, saying that he wouldn't question his opponent's patriotism and then listing why some think that way.  Kerrey's remark was a one-over on Nixon's, akin to saying that you like how a political opponent has wife-beaters in the family and then saying that you meant it as a complement and that everyone's acting hysterically, as if your opponent is a compulsive wife-beater.

Kerrey had been in contact with the Clinton campaign about his endorsement, and his was only one in a series of ugly attacks on Obama that seemed to be coordinated by the Clintons.

The rumors about Obama, stirred by the Clinton campaign, just kept rolling.  Stories about Obama having to deny that he was a Muslim continued throughout the campaign.  In South Carolina, he felt forced by the rumors to put out a mailer asserting his Christian credentials.  In late January, Obama's campaign smartly purchased Google ads with keywords like "Obama Muslim" to help counteract the false information they'd get from other online sources.

Just a week ago, the Clinton campaign apparently leaked images of Obama in a turban, clearly attempting to make him look Muslim.  The fact that it accentuated his ethnicity, his sense of difference, isn't a coincidence:  today, Muslim is the ultimate American "other," the frightening foreigner figure (despite that there are many American Muslims).  The deeper message may well have been "you just can't trust a black -- who knows, they might be a Muslim."  Even though the photo was roundly denounced, and many pointed out the fact that U.S. politicians (including Hillary) routinely wear local dress when visiting abroad, the photo had legs and ran for days across all news media.  Of course, the Clinton campaign denied leaking the images -- or, rather, denied knowing if anyone in the campaign leaked the images.  This, of course, generated new stories -- all with that photo attached.

Now Hillary has herself suggested that she doesn't believe Obama is a Muslim because she just doesn't have any evidence to the contrary and that, hey, Obama says he's a Christian.  As an isolated incident, this means nothing.  As part of a pattern in the Clinton campaign to perpetuate rumors about Obama's religion, itself part of a wider campaign to smear Obama as just another black candidate or someone who'll let your children perish (as with her recent TV ad), Hillary's recent comments suggest quite a bit about her -- and about the politics Obama says he wants to change.

Of course, the deeper problem isn't that all these smears aren't true.  It's that being Muslim is a fatal liability in U.S. Presidential politics -- even as our current President asserts, at least out of one side of his mouth, that the War on Terror isn't a War on Islam.  The whole history of the Muslim smear against Obama is all about fear:  the point isn't that Obama is an Islamic extremist or a Muslim terrorist, merely that he believes in the Koran.  The smear equates being a Muslim with being dangerous and untrustworthy, with being "other" if not the enemy.

But playing the fear game, brought to new heights by the current administration, is nothing new for Hillary, who embraced with Machiavellian eagerness the political success that George W. Bush was able to achieve through fear.

Yet there's evidence that the smear campaign is working.  The same news program that asked Hillary about the Muslim rumor, 60 Minutes, found that Ohio voters had swallowed some of the most vicious, baseless lies about Obama, including that he is a Muslim and doesn't know the national anthem.

Hillary's been running a few points ahead of Obama in Ohio polls, and Ohio is being used as a bellweather for whether Hillary should continue her campaign or drop out now.

It remains to be seen to what extent such tactics will ultimately prove successful -- and which states, to their discredit, reward them.  It also remains to be seen what damage they will have on the Democratic party and on American politics in general.

What does seem clear is that a vote for Hillary is increasingly -- as was a vote for Bush in 2000 after his surrogates accused John McCain of having a black love baby -- a vote for slander, however softened with plausible deniability.

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Politics by Julian Darius:
Bush / Clinton
Unelectable Hillary
Hillary:  Obama May be Muslim
Obama Just the Beginning
The Largest Garbage Dump on Earth
Tiananmen Square 19 Years Later
Biden is Obama's V.P. Choice
Speeches that Could Have Been:  Hillary at the Convention
Hillary's Speech Good but Superficial
Hillary's Convention Speech and Revisionist History
Palin Gaffs
Palin on the Supreme Court
Dick Chaney Endorses Torture, Killing Americans