Once again, the President’s citizenship and religion are up for debate. This so-called issue has really worn out its welcome, yet it persists, a tumor that continues to eat away at the President’s legitimacy in the eyes of his detractors. One thing I don’t think anyone would call it is an example of people having a right to their own opinion. However, this is precisely what John Boehner claimed in his latest appearance on “Meet the Press.”
It has been said, many times, that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion but not his or her own facts. The President’s citizenship and his religious beliefs are what they are. There is no debate here; you may have a right to your own opinion, but to cling to a mistaken notion is to willingly believe something that is not true. In spite of this simple concept, when asked whether he had a responsibility to respond to such ignorance, the Speaker of the House replied that, “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think.” Well, that may be true, but when people believe something erroneously, I should hope that an honest public official would do his best to set the record straight.
I consider telling the truth and the ability to educate the public to be valuable assets in a public official. To refuse to correct false assertions and outright lies is a disservice to his constituents, whom Boehner claimed to serve when he stated that his job is to listen to the American people. Again, this is not an objectionable claim (though one could debate whether Republicans have effectively listened to their constituents over the years). But when many loud, obnoxious public figures and angry citizens falsely accuse the President of being a secret Muslim outsider who illegally obtained his position and plans to transform the country into some socialist utopia, one has to wonder when politicians like Boehner will finally stand up and keep the discourse sensible.
Of course, there is a very real political motive at work here, as such false notions eat away at the President’s clout and motivate an angry hive of potential Republican voters eager to oust the Manchurian candidate. By allowing this false information to persist, Republicans implicitly suggest that the President is lying. Boehner did not say that the President’s citizenship and religion were a sure thing – he said that he took the President at his word and that he believed the president’s citizenship and Christian beliefs to be facts. Such lukewarm answers are common with Republican politicians, allowing them to go on record as not being part of the insanity of the so-called “birther” movement while still acting as if it is a legitimate alternative viewpoint.
Boehner denies that he allows this ignorance to continue so that the President can continue to be weakened and delegitimized, but I see no other explanation. Ignorance should be confronted, and the truth should come first. Only then can meaningful debate occur. But if the goal is to win cheap political victories and to keep real issues out of the spotlight, then the logical thing to do is encourage and advance this ignorance. Allowing someone else to mudsling is preferable to doing the dirty work yourself, and anything that keeps voters excited and gives them a reason to reject your opponent is welcome in all campaigns.
President Obama made a big deal out of trying to be post-partisan and uniting the country. Rather than demonize him by using the very same partisan tricks that he made every effort to rise above, perhaps the Republicans can try being responsible for once and keep such miniscule, non-issues out of the public discourse.
By allowing these rumors and misconceptions to thrive, Republicans are not contributing to a stronger, more united country that stands with its President and can have mature discussions about the issues that really matter. These emotional, instinctive and unsupported arguments distract and divide in a time when the country desperately needs to move forward.
This is not the kind of leadership that the Speaker of the House should be displaying when so many citizens have decided to give his party a chance to turn things around.
Kerry Wakely is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at email@example.com.