Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Honestly, It Shouldn't Matter

A while ago, I wrote about Campbell Brown's reaction to the McCain campaign sequestering Sarah Palin. I liked her, but now I like her even more with her latest "Cutting Through The Bull"; I like how she brings up that being a Muslim or being Arab is not a disqualifier for higher office. I like her point about how using Muslim or Arab as slurs against Obama, who is neither Muslim nor Arab, maligns the 1.2 million actual Arab-Americans and 7 million actual Muslim-Americans we have in this country. Brown is correct in stating that it hurts these American citizens to consistently have their ethnicity or religious affiliation be utilized as shorthand for "dangerous" and "unAmerican". And I agree with her that newscasters and news organizations should not be complacent in accepting that ignorance unchallenged.

At the same time, I wonder if the campaign trail is the appropriate place to counter such an argument, on either side. Campaign trails are good for many things; but I do worry about either Barack Obama or John McCain deciding to take on this particular issue head on. I agree that creating the dichotomy, however inadvertantly, of "Arab" versus "decent family man" is not of the good. But McCain runs the risk of looking like he is trying to foster more questions about Obama (a rational concern, since he has tried to create questions about who Obama is) if he attempts to create a larger discussion about our prejudices as a society against Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans. "He's not, but so what if he was" could be taken as "He says he's not, but you and I know the truth". Obama runs the same risk. He should rightfully challenge untrue statements about his ethnicity and his religion. He is African-American. He is a Christian. He has a right for both of those aspects of his personality to be respected as truth. At the same time, creating that larger argument about Muslims and Arabs could easily backfire and be seen as a complicit admittance. This sort of thing has been used by school yard bullies for decades. I believe both candidates need to step up to the plate and defend Americans from being turned into a slur, but neither one of them should use Obama, a man whose background is already (irrationally) questioned, as an example of "but so what?" The argument needs to be shifted away from Barack Obama. The answer could go, "No, ma'am. Barack Obama is not Arab-American, but African-American. He is also a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues". It changes the response enough to eliminate the dichotomy of Arab or good citizen. It changes enough to both respond to what Obama actually is, and further explains what the issues of the campaign are. What both candidates should do, what they should feel obliged to do, is to confront the idea of Arab and Muslim Americans not being 'real' Americans without benefit of having it linked to Obama and without the question being raised at their rallies.

These two men should further the ideals of our society that all men are created equal, and that religious views and ethnicity should not automatically create suspicion. But they should do so independent of questions about Obama, because it is very easy in this world of soundbites to sound as if one is either admitting to being an Arab or a Muslim, or that one is disingenuous in that line of defense and is in actuality attempting to create more questions than provide answers. In the context of a political campaign, it is remarkably simple to have what should be stating the obvious, as Brown puts it, turn into an out and out controversy. Both campaigns, if they are smart (and I think at least one of the campaigns is smart; the other, not so much), would do well to limit the amount of false controversy they create at the moment. With 21 days before the election, both have a lot to lose in regard to this issue.

1 comment:

John said...

it's really too bad the town hall debate has already happened. I would've loved to have seen someone ask Sen. Obama if he is a "secret muslim," (no, he's a DOUBLE SECRET muslim! it's a rarely used classification in the Muslim charter!) and McCain's response would have to be interesting, since he can't ever agree with Obama during a debate.