E-mail lies about Obama are a breeding ground for uncritical thinking
Houston Chronicle Editorial
Maybe you've gotten one. Perhaps you know someone who was recently infected. Possibly, you've hit "forward" and transmitted one yourself.
By now, most people have heard at least some of the lies, often spread on the Internet, about Barack Obama. It's not chance that these breathless, nonsensical rumors have multiplied as Obama's campaign has gained strength.
Different from the normal hype and mudslinging that candidates must be immune to, the fictions signal something dangerous. Not for Obama, but for our culture.
Often internally illogical, the e-mails purport to prove Obama is not patriotic, isn't really Christian or was schooled in extremist "madrassas" to one day make America Islamic.
Popular personalities are magnets for people's fantasy, and Obama himself knows this, observing that he sometimes serves as a blank screen for people's projections.
Yet the particular smear campaign against Obama has little to do with what people might speculate about the inner Obama. The e-mails are not founded on conflicting accounts from contemporaries, as were the Swiftboat attacks against Purple Heart-winner John Kerry during his 2004 campaign for the presidency.
Instead, the e-mails about Obama contradict some of the most easily provable, widely witnessed and documented events of his biography.
He wouldn't recite the Pledge of Allegiance? He was actually listening to the national anthem, and it's on Youtube.
His mostly black church is "separatist" or "racist"? It is indeed a controversial church. But one of the nation's most respected (white) theologians, Martin E. Marty, attends on occasion and has said, "Like all other nonblacks [we] are enthusiastically welcomed."
If one doesn't feel like sifting through Google or Nexis, try handy sites such as FactCheck.org or Snopes.com — nonpartisan sites devoted to checking out urban myths and political claims.
How about the Indonesia madrassa Obama supposedly went to — the one that teaches Wahabi Islam, the extreme form of Islam found in Saudi Arabia? It didn't exist.
Like millions of Americans, Obama has blood relatives and step-relatives who are Muslim, as well as Christian. But the elementary school he attended in Indonesia, home to Earth's largest Muslim population, actually was "a public school. We don't focus on religion," the headmaster confirmed to CNN.
Obama, who has attended the same church for two decades, has said as much for years.
What about the outfit Obama wore in Kenya? Even the Clinton campaign — which has now denied leaking the image of Obama in the dress of an African tribal elder — acknowledges that wearing local clothing is the sign of statesmanship. We want more of these respectful encounters with foreign cultures, whoever becomes president.
The fictions about Obama, instantly killed with the slightest research, are dangerous precisely because they are so thoughtlessly transmitted.
That many people seem ready to believe them, despite longstanding proof of their falsity, suggests these fictions are falling on predisposed minds.
This year's campaign boasts three excellent candidates. It's a race whose very suspense reflects the best, most enlightened and critical thinking in U.S. electoral history. Yet the lies about Obama are throwbacks to ancient fears of otherness: of another monotheistic religion, ethnic difference, or foreign experience that somehow suggests disloyalty.
Spread like germs to unresisting minds, those fears weaken a whole society's ability to think straight.