Republicans seem ceaselessly enamored of litmus tests, but the newest one — Do you believe President Barack Obama loves America? — makes birthers seem witty.
The question arose after former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told a private audience that he doesn’t think Obama loves America. He further noted that Obama wasn’t raised like him or members of the audience (conservative businesspeople and assorted media), which, though probably true (Obama grew up in Hawaii and for a time in Indonesia), wasn’t really the point.
Translated, Giuliani’s observation was to question whether Obama is really on the home team, specifically when it comes to defeating the Islamic State. Whether Giuliani intended to dredge up the “otherness” of Obama, a remnant of the 2008 presidential election, isn’t clear (or likely), the effect was to stoke long-simmering doubts about Obama’s legitimacy.
To certain people, he is still an alien who doesn’t think the way “we” do and is the son of a Kenyan anti-colonialist. (Aren’t we all anti-colonialists these days?) The fact that he also happens to be African-American has many viewing Giuliani’s comment as dog whistling to racists, which probably is not true.
Still, what he said had a certain familiar ring to it. And racists will embrace Giuliani’s comments as speaking to them regardless of what was intended. As a result, Giuliani not only has tarnished his own legacy as America’s mayor but has created problems for the Republican Party, which needed no new reasons for black voters to see them as unwelcoming.
Now, in the litmus test du jour, Republican presidential candidates are being forced to indicate whether they agree with Giuliani and also whether they believe Obama is a Christian who loves his country. Good grief.
To be fair, these questions are coming from the media, not from the RNC, but litmus-voters are paying attention — and so are Democrats. It is hard to fathom what exactly certain Republicans want from Obama. Tears? A public declaration of love?
Several years back, some insisted that Obama wasn’t a patriot because he didn’t want to wear a flag lapel pin. This was absurd on its face. Wear a little flag pin and we’re all good? Refuse to wear one and you might be a Muslim operative?
Giuliani’s comments followed closely on the heels of Obama’s much-criticized speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, which did fall short of inspiring, one has to admit. In his attempt to appear humble, the president tried to give equal time to our nation’s flaws as he commended its accomplishments, saying:
“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
Well now, there’s a comparison unlikely to curry favor among the brethren. This weird teaching moment might work in an op-ed piece or in academia, but when the enemy invokes these very events, we might want to avoid lending legitimacy to their justifications for savagery and genocide.
Uniqueness, meanwhile, is irrelevant. Using history as a guide lest we repeat it is one thing; it is quite another to essentially minimize present horrors because, hey, we’ve all been bad. Christians aren’t currently burning people alive or beheading them in an attempt to convert the world to Christianity.
Obama’s failed attempt to show the world how evenhanded he is revealed a surprising lack of logic. But this hardly means that he doesn’t “love” America, whatever that means.
It isn’t really so shocking that Obama’s too-careful wording might cause someone like Giuliani to react strongly in the moment. The fact that Republicans aren’t eager to distance themselves from the comments suggests that there are enough on the right who agree with him that a denunciation might be risky.
The first summoned to the interrogatory was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for whom the dinner was intended when Giuliani stole the show. Walker has been asked repeatedly whether he thinks Obama loves America, an idiotic question that only a fool would answer except to say, “Absolutely!”
Instead, Walker grabbed a shovel and starting digging a hole right next to Giuliani’s. Though he first replied that he didn’t feel he needed to comment on Giuliani’s comments, he later said he doesn’t know if Obama is a Christian.
Well, of course he doesn’t “know,” but everyone knows what Obama has said. He’s a Christian. I’m no less inclined to believe the president when he says he’s a Christian than I am to believe Walker when he says he’s one. If either man is a fake Christian, he has plenty of company, the fact of which makes very little difference to most Americans.
This is all politics, in other words, and Republican candidates need to get smarter. Litmus tests will keep coming their way, and anyone seriously considering running for president needs to know what he thinks before he’s asked. When the camera is running is no time to share one’s deliberations.
It seems that Walker could use better advisers and advance people — and the president might want to shake up his speech-writing department. In the meantime, only Giuliani owns his opinions.
Too bad they’re so repugnant.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.