In 2012, the two parties differ on a number of issues that voters really should be thinking about: the role of government in the economy, inequality of wealth and income, climate change, what to do about the 50 million Americans without health insurance, how to handle the 11 million undocumented immigrants, and so on.
It’s hard to have any of those debates, though, because in addition to the legitimate issues that divide Republicans from Democrats, conservatives have trumped up a number of issues that are pure fantasies — they are based on nothing that is really happening.
The construction of pure fantasy issues is a tactic so outrageous that most Americans have trouble grasping it. Voters are used to hearing exaggerations, rhetoric that makes mountains out of molehills. But making a mountain out of the pure flat plain is something totally different and relatively new. “Surely,” the average voter thinks, “there is some fire under all that smoke.”
But these four issues are pure smoke. There is absolutely no fire under there anywhere.
1. Creeping Sharia.
Supposedly, Islamic law (i.e. Sharia) is being surreptitiously introduced into the American justice system “with the goal of transforming American society from within”. This is sometimes called a stealth jihad.
At first, this fake issue was confined to a fringe represented by Pamela Geller, Chuck Norris, or the American Family Association’s talkradio host Brian Fischer. But like Birtherism and other fringe issues, it has crept into the Republican mainstream, with endorsements by Republican presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann. A constitutional amendment against Sharia passed in Oklahoma, and similar amendments have been proposed in other states.
The reality? In a decision denying Oklahoma’s appeal of a lower court’s injunction against the Oklahoma law, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote:
Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.
In examining instances where “creeping Sharia” is alleged outside Oklahoma, I haven’t found a single one that stands up to scrutiny. (The “halal turkey” is no more creeping Sharia than kosher franks are creeping Judaism.) Typically, the cases involve Muslims demanding the same respect that Christians and Jews take for granted, and say nothing at all about Sharia.
In this case, for example, a small-college adjunct professor cherry-picked offensive quotes out of the Quran and presented them as representative of all Islam. When Muslim students objected and the college administration refused to discipline them, he resigned. Brian Fischer then presented him as “a victim of Sharia law“.
In truth, there is no court in America where Sharia is being granted the force of law, and neither party is proposing that there should be.
2. Things Obama never said.
Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire Primary victory speech was full of references to things President Obama has “said”. For example:
this President wakes up every morning, looks out across America and is proud to announce, “It could be worse.”
I went looking for this quote. Several Republican blogs and radio hosts attribute “It could be worse” to this event, where the words “It could be worse” actually don’t appear. In spite of the quotation marks, it’s a paraphrase. Obama was actually saying that, while unemployment was still too high, it would have been higher without the stimulus.
So a paraphrase of something that Obama almost sort-of said a year and half ago has become a verbatim quote that he says “every morning”.
What else? Obama “believes America’s role as leader in the world is a thing of the past.” That’s a quote from a right-wing book about Obama, not Obama himself.
“He apologizes for America.” Back in February, the Washington Post fact-checker awarded this claim its lowest truth rating — four Pinocchios, reserved for “whoppers”. But Romney keeps repeating it because … well, he’s running a post-truth campaign.
The Romney campaign was forthcoming about the entire context of the quote in its press release and in its comments to the press Monday night. And indeed, they seemed to be reveling in the fact that we were now talking about that particular part of the ad.
And then Romney said Obama had called Americans “lazy” — another four Pinocchios.
So in general, if you think President Obama has said something that makes you angry — especially if you heard it from Mitt Romney — look for the YouTube or the transcript. (The transcript of every official Obama speech is on the whitehouse.gov site.) If you can’t find it, chances are excellent he actually said nothing of the kind.
3. Voter fraud.
No one denies that America has a colorful history of vote fraud. Election officials have been known to lose or find ballot boxes, mis-program voting machines, fake absentee ballots, or otherwise misrepresent electoral results.
What we don’t have, though, is a history of widespread voter fraud. Americans do not often show up at polling places claiming to be someone else. Why would we? It’s time consuming, and there’s always a risk that somebody at the precinct knows either you or whoever you’re impersonating. (One conservative trying to prove how easy voter fraud is recently got caught this way.)
Even if you get away with it, all you’ve done is steal one vote. If you’re that committed, you can probably change more votes through legitimate campaigning. Go work a phone bank or something.
Nonetheless, it has become a truism on the Right that this kind of fraud is so widespread that we need a whole new system of voter-ID laws to prevent it. But even advocates of these laws can’t provide examples of actual voter fraud. When Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach claimed illegal immigrants were voting by impersonating dead people, he gave one example. The Wichita Eagle then found the “dead” guy raking leaves in his yard. Another allegedly dead voter turned up right here in Nashua this week.
If these laws were just useless, we might shake our heads at the waste. (Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates their new voter-ID bill will cost $5.7 million.) But they’re actually sinister. People who don’t already have drivers’ licenses, passports, or other recognized photo-IDs are mostly in groups that vote Democratic: the poor, the disabled, the very old, students, and recently naturalized citizens. Discouraging them from voting is the real point.
4. Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Marxist.
The Birther lie has been widely debunked, but it still gets winked at by folks like Donald Trump, one of the Romney sons, Rick Perry, and Fox News. In the 2010 cycle, most Republican congressional wouldn’t go full-on Birther, but would instead call on Obama to settle the “legitimate questions” that the Birthers raised. John Boehner expressed his personal belief that Obama was American, but wouldn’t rein in the Birthers in his caucus.
All that, in spite of the fact that there was never any reason to doubt that Obama was born where and when he said he was. Not one.
Muslim? Again, no reason at all to raise that question. Obama and his long-time church agreed that he was a Christian.
Marxist? Other than gay rights (where he has been following public opinion, not leading it), Obama’s program is what moderate Republicanism used to look like. Is it Marxist to roll out RomneyCare nationwide? to attack global warming by the same cap-and-trade system Bush Sr. used to fight acid rain? to want to restore the tax rates Bill Clinton negotiated with Newt Gingrich?
It’s tempting to say, “That’s politics.” But it isn’t. There are no comparable lies in the mainstream of the Left. Obscure liberal blogs might have promoted the fact-free tabloid rumors that 9-11 was an inside job, or that Bush had started drinking again, but high-ranking Democrats never pandered to them.
All these charges are attempts to give substance to the vague feeling that there’s something “not right” about Barack Obama. But you know what the substance really is? He’s black. That vague sense that there’s something “wrong” with him that you just can’t put your finger on — that’s what subconscious racism feels like. Deal with it.