JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 22, 2010
Mitch McConnell is careful with his words, so this dog-whistle message to the far right during his "Meet the Press" appearance today is notable:
SEN. McCONNELL: The president says he's a--the president says he's a Christian, I take him at his word. I don't think that's in dispute.
MR. GREGORY: And do you think--how, how do you think it comes to be that this kind of misinformation gets spread around and prevails?
SEN. McCONNELL: I have no idea, but I take the president at his word.
To say that you "take him at his word" means two things. First of all, it suggests that the president's word is the only information we have to go on here. Of course, that is absurd. Second, if further suggests that, the evidence being weak or inconclusive, McConnell is taking the high road by accepting Obama's testimony.
The formulation is a way of putatively siding with the truth so that he can't be pilloried by the media, while subtly suggesting that he is open to the views of Americans who think Obama is Muslim. And, of course, if reporters recognize the sneaky little game he's playing and demand a stronger formulation, all the better! It gets more chatter about Obama and possibly being a Muslim into the news.
McCOnnell used the formulation twice. It's not an accident.