It’s not just the zombie lie that’s the problem

IT’S NOT JUST THE ZOMBIE LIE THAT’S THE PROBLEM…. A little too often, our discourse is just disheartening.

Now comes fresh evidence of misperceptions about the president taking root in the public mind: a new poll by the Pew Research Center finds a substantial rise in the percentage of Americans who believe, incorrectly, that Mr. Obama is Muslim. The president is Christian, but 18 percent now believe he is Muslim, up from 12 percent when he ran for the presidency and 11 percent after he was inaugurated.

The findings suggest that, nearly two years into Mr. Obama’s presidency, the White House is struggling with the perception of “otherness” that Candidate Obama sought so hard to overcome….

There’s some politics at play, here. Indeed, more than a third of self-identified Republicans actually believe that the president is a secret Muslim. While the overall number of Americans who believe this nonsense is up, the sharpest increase comes from conservative Republicans (up 16 percentage points since last year).

If this were simply a matter of ignorant voters being mislead by right-wing garbage, it’d merely be disappointing. But in this case, there’s very likely a little more to it.

Andrew Kohut, the Pew center’s director, said something interesting in response to results: “This is an expression of the people who are opposed to Obama having an increasingly negative view of him.”

Ben Smith suggested something similar, speculating that “telling a pollster that Obama is a Muslim is just another way of expressing disapproval.” From the Pew report:

Beliefs about Obama’s religion are closely linked to political judgments about him. Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Obama is doing. Those who are unsure about Obama’s religion are about evenly divided in their views of his performance.

In other words, we’ve come to a point in our discourse at which “Muslim” isn’t an adjective used to describe 1.5 billion people; it’s an adjective some Americans use as an insult. While some Democrats used to criticize George W. Bush with words like “idiot” and “liar,” Obama’s detractors now use “Muslim” in much the same way. And the more the president’s support falters, the more “Muslim” he appears in the eyes of his critics.

As a cultural matter, this is insane. As a political matter, there doesn’t appear to be much anyone can do to convince Americans that the president is not, in fact, a secret Muslim.

The White House says the public — and the press — are not listening. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has given six speeches either from a church pulpit or addressing religion in public life — including an Easter prayer breakfast where he “offered a very personal and candid reflection of what the Resurrection means to him,” said Joshua DuBois, who runs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. […]

The White House says Mr. Obama prays daily, sometimes in person or over the telephone with a small circle of Christian pastors. One of them, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who was also a spiritual adviser to former President George W. Bush, telephoned a reporter on Wednesday, at the White House’s behest. He said he was surprised that the number of Americans who say Mr. Obama is Muslim is growing.

“I must say,” Mr. Caldwell said, “never in the history of modern-day presidential politics has a president confessed his faith in the Lord, and folks basically call him a liar.”

Sigh.