Boehner's Quasi-Birtherism

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JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 14, 2011

Boehner's Quasi-Birtherism

On "Meet the Press," John Boehner repeats what is by now the standard Republican formulation on whether President Obama is a Muslim -- "I take him at his word," "the facts as I understand them," etc. It's a way of making it seem as if the underlying matter is in dispute but the Republicans are generously accepting Obama's claim at face value. Thus they can avoid antagonizing, and even subtly encourage, the large segments of the base that believe Obama is a Muslim (watch this frightening Republican focus group) without having to openly endorse these claims. Watch Boehner repeatedly decline to treat Obama's religious as a clear-cut matter:

GREGORY: Do you not think it’s your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?

BOEHNER: David,it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.

GREGORY: But isn’t that a little bit fast and loose? I mean, you are the leader in Congress and you are not standing up to obvious facts and saying these are facts, and if you don’t believe that it’s nonsense?

BOEHNER: I just outlined the facts as I understand them. I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian, I’ll take him at his word.

GREGORY: But that kind of ignorance over whether he’s a Muslim doesn’t concern you?

BOEHNER: Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can’t — it’s not my job to tell them.

GREGORY: Why isn’t it your job to stand up and say, no, the facts are these? Didn’t John McCain do that in –

BOEHNER: I just —

GREGORY: When you’re saying ‘it’s good enough for me,’ are you really standing up and saying, for those that believe that, or who would talk about that — you had a member of Congress, you had a new Tea Party freshman, who was out just yesterday speaking to conservatives and he said, ‘I’m fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth and I do have a birth certificate to prove it. That was Raul Labrador, a new Congressman from Idaho. Is that an appropriate way for your members to speak?

BOEHNER: The gentleman was trying to be funny, I would imagine, but remember something – it really is not our job to tell the American people what to believe and what do think. There’s a lot of information out there, people read a lot of things, but I --

GREGORY: You shouldn’t stand up to misinformation or stereotypes?

BOEHNER: I’ve made clear what I believe the facts are.

It isn't just Boehner, and it isn't just an inelegant construction. This is a calculated refusal by Republicans leaders to declare that Obama is a citizen and he is a Christian. I have no reason to believe Boehner, Mitch McConnell and others are doing this because they are secret members of the Ku Klux Klan.

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posted in: jonathan chait

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