Truth too often goes unspoken

April 12, 2012


Barack Obama himself has never had the guts to say it.

Indeed, while it is famously difficult to prove a negative, it seems apparent that few people in all of politics and media have had the guts to say it. Did John McCain ever say it? Did Rick Santorum or Bill O’Reilly? 

So let us plant a little flag for, mark with a yellow highlighter, the thing Rep. Raul Labrador said Sunday on “Meet the Press”: that “it wouldn’t matter” if President Obama were a Muslim. And if it seems rather much to be handing out medals for such a modest statement of principle, well ... the principle has been under fire for so long that even a modest statement feels momentous. 

In recent years, public figures have made news for refuting (like McCain) or failing to refute (like Santorum) the canard that Obama is a follower of Islam. But outside of Colin Powell, who did so a few years back on “Meet the Press,” it is difficult to think of many — or any — who have dared to confront the notion implicit in the lie. Namely, that being a Muslim is incompatible with being an American. 

This is taken by some as self-evident truth even as Muslim soldiers risk their lives on our battlefields, Muslim cops risk their lives on our streets, Muslim teachers teach our children, Muslim reporters report our news, Muslim politicians help to make our laws, and Muslim-Americans struggle against those who believe our sacred ideals cover other people, but not them.

Thus, a fleeting statement that should have been obvious to the point of mundanity feels instead like a water station in the Mojave.

Labrador is no fan of the president’s. His comment about Islam was made en route to a contention that Obama’s policies have “weakened” the nation. Labrador is a Republican and a conservative from a very Republican and conservative state, Idaho. It is his political and ideological kin who are most responsible for pushing — and believing — the Obama-as-Muslim narrative. All of which imbues his remark with a welcome patina of political courage and moral clarity.

Perhaps he would agree that what has historically weakened this nation at least as much as any policy the president has ever pursued is the tiresome notion that some of us are more American than the rest of us, that the “all” in “all men are created equal” refers only to those of the right gender, genus, sexual or political orientation, or faith. It is an idea abhorrent to the aforementioned sacred ideals, yet one embraced eagerly in recent years by those who apparently feel bereft without someone to fear.

It is a shameful truth of American history that there has never been a shortage of someones to fear, nor of those who were willing to maximize and exploit that fear. It is an equally shameful truth that Americans, in thrall to that fear, have committed grievous sins against both human rights and those sacred ideals.

And always, it begins with some false, implicit truth, some lie that gains such a foothold in the popular imagination, that becomes so pervasive and persuasive, no one even questions it anymore. Some, because they don’t think to; others, because they don’t dare to.

So someone says the German-Americans are traitors and let’s string that one up — and no one says a thing.

Someone says the Japanese-Americans are spies and let’s imprison them all behind barbed wire — and no one raises a cry.

And someone says all the Muslims are terrorists and we must rid our nation of them by any means necessary — and one hears only the arias of the crickets.

It is in those complicit silences that we lose ourselves, that we betray our ideals and that mobs are born. So there is nothing modest about even a modest statement of principle. And one cannot help but be glad Labrador, being what he is, said what he said.

It’s about time someone did.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

Let's see how open-minded Pitts is when his fellow libs begin to ratchet up what is at present a relatively quiet brand of anti-Mormon bigotry that has begun to surface among liberal commentators. Obama and his henchmen will pull out all the stops before November, and one part of their strategy will be to profess open-mindedness while subtly keeping Romney's religious beliefs out there, front and center, as a topic du jour.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

I'm opposed to government policy being based on any superstitious belief system, whether it's Muslim, Mormon, Methodist, or what have you.

But what's even scarier is having a president whose primary motivation is doing whatever it takes to become president.

Sadly, that applies to Obama as well as Romney, but Romney would be even more beholden to plutocratic special interests than Obama has been.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

It's much more likely that Romney's religion will be an issue for conservative Christians.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 2 months ago

Living in the Deep South is interesting. The schadenfreude for me is delicious. The Southern Baptists are now caught between voting for a black man or voting for a Mormon (and believe it or not most of them would rather vote for the black man). Watching the heads exploding is...entertaining.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

Why on earth do you live in the deep south?

It isn't somewhere I'd expect you to live, based on your posting history.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 2 months ago

Family necessity sometimes puts people in strange situations, especially when you have a matriarch in her mid eighties who has never lived anywhere else.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 2 months ago

Sadly, no one actually cares about stating the obvious since the intent is to muddle the argument and confuse the issues. I think the point is that Republicans are afraid of clarity on the issues because there are a lot of people who might switch parties if they actually understood that the Republican positions are going to hurt average Americans even more than they did under Bush.

littlexav 6 years, 2 months ago

I seriously doubt that Obama, fresh off the "people think I'm a Muslim" train, will attack anyone's religion, lest of all Mitt Romney's.

chootspa 6 years, 2 months ago

Why would Obama bother? Romney provides so much non-religious material to detractors.

Mike Ford 6 years, 2 months ago

wating for the targeted people for such education to flip it and call Mr. Pitts a racist....

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

Yours is a sad and lonely existence then.

Liberty275 6 years, 2 months ago

Did you see where they burned down the swamp?

Paul R Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz..who really cares (or should.) Good column, Mr. Pitts. Romney won't make people wear magic underpants to get into the White House. Let's move on to policy debates, shall we?

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

The answer is, unfortunately, a lot of people.

Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc. have little chance of becoming President.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

Care to share a prediction of when we'll get the first non-Christian president?

What about the first female president?

How about an openly gay/lesbian one?

I think that male Christians will continue to dominate the presidency for quite a while, which is too bad.

Fossick 6 years, 2 months ago

"Care to share a prediction of when we'll get the first non-Christian president?"


jafs 6 years, 2 months ago


How about the next one?

I'm taking your claim to be historically accurate, which I don't know for sure.

Fossick 6 years, 2 months ago

  1. John Quincy Adams was a Unitarian, as were Millard Fillmore (not elected) and William Howard Taft. Taft was accused of being an atheist during his 1908 campaign. Ike was not baptized until after he was elected President.

littlexav 6 years, 2 months ago

Unitarians are Christians, too. And you don't have to be baptized to be a Christian. How is any of what you're saying accurate, let alone relevant?

Fossick 6 years, 2 months ago

"Unitarians are Christians, too"

No, they're not. Unitiarianism is a reaction against trinitarianism (the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are "God), which has represented the "orthodox" thinking of the church since the 4th century. The Unitarians today do not claim to be Christian, but to draw from all faith traditions: http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/index.shtml

Unitarianism in the 19th century was in the process of separating itself from Christianity. That process is now complete. But to what extent it had done so at any given period is, of course, impossible to measure.

Fossick 6 years, 2 months ago

"...let alone relevant?"

You must have missed the conversation going on in this thread. Scroll up about three quotes and you'll see where Jafs asserted that it seems one has to be considered a Christian to be elected President. The fact that people have not been (or have not been considered by voters to have been) Christian and yet were elected nonetheless, is relevant. At least in this conversation.

Which is where Ike fits in. Since baptism is a public association with Christ or Christianity, and since Ike was baptised after he was elected, it seems to follow that he was elected without that association. That, too, it relevant to Jafs' concern.

chootspa 6 years, 2 months ago

Earlier Unitarianism was not the same as modern Unitarianism, and while opponents may have hurled accusations, it's likely all those presidents considered themselves Christians.

littlexav 6 years, 2 months ago

Jefferson may not have been a traditional Christian, and he would certainly have strange views as compared to today's Evangelical Right, but he was certainly a Christian and professed himself to be one.

Fossick 6 years, 2 months ago

Jefferson's "strange views" have nothing to do with today's Evangelical Right. Jefferson was non-Trinitarian, did not believe in miracles or the divinity of Christ, and made his own bible where he cut out all the 'supernatural' stuff he didn't like.

"What is a Christian?" is a hard question to answer of course, but if the definition means anything it must exclude those who do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ. That is the foundational, historical assertion of the Church. Jefferson did not believe it.

Jefferson's beliefs were such that the newspaper New England Palladium said during the 1800 campaign, "Should the infidel Jefferson be elected to the Presidency, the seal of death is that moment set on our holy religion, our churches will be prostrated, and some infamous prostitute, under the title of goddess of reason, will preside in the sanctuaries now devoted to the worship of the most High." http://www.trivia-library.com/b/u-s-president-thomas-jefferson-quotes-about-jefferson.htm

It is hard to argue that Jefferson was a Christian in any sense where the word resembles its historical meaning. He certainly was not considered such by the electorate, which is Jafs' major point anyway.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

I'm glad to hear that, and a little bit surprised.

They also don't mean anything to me, when choosing a president.

A little bit of common ground here.

littlexav 6 years, 2 months ago

You're half right... D4 is connected to a host of personality traits and potential personality disorders. Tricky stuff. But what exactly are you talking about? Who on the left is stoking fear of un-American behavior on the right?

Fossick 6 years, 2 months ago

Hard to find anything to argue with this week. Though I would note that the moves against Germans during WWI and the Japanese during WWII were both orchestrated in Washington in order to get the rest of us Americans on the same page. When there's serious fearmongering occurring, it's seldom farmers or truckdrivers initiating it. It's most often the occupant of the Oval Office. http://mcns.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/destroy-this-mad-brute/

That's a truth that too often goes unspoken.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

That's often considered another form of discrimination against women, isn't it?

tbaker 6 years, 2 months ago

“It is a shameful truth of American history that there has never been a shortage of someones to fear…”

Another classic Red Herring fail from Pitts.

Fear is human nature. The truth is mankind itself has never had a shortage of someones to fear because these someones have a demonstrated propensity to harm others. To single Americans out with respect to Muslims is crap and not supported by any objective measurement. For example, how many Jewish Synagogues are in Saudi Arabia or in Iran? How many Christian Churches are left in Afghanistan?

How many Mosques are in the US? Are they increasing in number?

People fear violence born of extremism. Muslim extremists have been responsible for a lot of violence. Muslims therefore cause non-Muslim common folks to pause and take notice of them. This is human nature and in no way means Americans think all Muslims are violent extremists. There is nothing shameful about recognizing the fact Muslim extremists have been responsible for a number of violent events against non-Muslims in recent times. If our society condemned them as Pitts suggests, we would be locking them up in camps like we did Japanese Americans in WWII. Americans have evolved past the point where we blame an entire belief system for the acts of a few deranged psychos. If I’m wrong, why then is Islam the fastest growing religion in the US?

Greg Cooper 6 years, 2 months ago

It may not be, but perception is a great multiplier:



Also, a quite telling indicator of the "growth" of a religion is the number of folks practicing it, and, in fact, the number of people practicing or professing Christianity is down, quite a bit in proportion to the lowering of the birth rate of the "Christians", as opposed to the growth of the Islamic birth rate. May turn out that the moniker "fastest growing religion in the US" might just be because fewer Christians are being born to practice the religion.

A better indicator of the strength of a religion might be the percentage of people in a given region actually engaged in the religion. For instance, the folllowing statistice are relevant:


Well, there is quite a lot of stuff with which to work. Perhaps it's time to think in terms of results rather than numbers. Seems as if that would be the better indicator of a region's impact on its people, anyway.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

Good points, SP: Last time they mixed religion and politics, people were burned at the stake.

Liberty275 6 years, 2 months ago

Last time they mixed atheism and politics, Stalin killed 20,000,000.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 2 months ago

Communism treated atheism as a "religion" in and of itself. Like any other religion, it was used as an excuse to commit atrocities. The point is to include and tolerate ALL religions and keep them separate from government, not make any one religion the "state" religion, including atheism (or Christianity or Pastafarianism)..

Gregory Newman 6 years, 2 months ago

White male privilege has broken even. Yet it is perceived as a loss. The only privileges that a white male lost were the unfair privileges. That’s why women lean toward Obama. Those that agree with this statement will be deemed as Liberal as if that’s demonic. Those that disagree will accept that is the conservative stance meaning just for whites.

Two days after the election Mitch McConnell stated “that he feels his “single most important” job is to defeat President Obama in 2012:” We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government.

This spoke that a Race of people did not believe it could happen. Moreover, this also told me that a great number of “Whites” felt that they have just lost their country and not only that they also feel that a Black person does not have the ability to lead and it is beneath them to follow his leadership.

So therefore, you have a House and Senate that didn't pass anything but the Obama care to keep themselves Rich as a negotiation to keep the Bush Tax cuts which only benefits them not you in the public. Yet you always hear its Obama's policies. What policies? The ones that are not current policy?

Now you read countless anxiety attacks on blogs that speak. Geez his cape didn’t open to save me OMG no change?

Same old adages blame the Black man. I thank God that a White man will not determine who goes to heaven or hell.

Gregory Newman 6 years, 2 months ago

Those countries follow the ambitions of whites thru trade and act with the same fever named greed. In addition Ronald Wilson Reagan spurned racism at a point when Blacks and Whites were closing the gap of acceptance of each other and this nation has been sinking ever since. The out cry has only came from you because you lack the ability to adjust to a crumbling nation. This is the first time since the 30's that Whites have experienced degradation and its obvious you can't handle it. You named yourself correctly. "FALSE HOPE" and you probably won't change. Romney nor Obama will save you. NAFTA/GATT and the H-1B visa does not have a Black signature on it. At least Obama is acting as a buffer until one of the Republicans ushers in the anti-christ. I hope Obama loses as gift to your ignorance. If Romney wins he will excellerate the EB-5 visa then you will be praying, oh no I take that back, you have no hope I mean you will be begging to work for Chinese Nationals.

Kathy Theis-Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

FHNC - you are one scary dude/dudette. Your postings are dripping with fear and your speech is hateful. I pity you.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 2 months ago

The only thing I see wrong with this piece is that Pitts gives too much credence to a short statement made on "Meet the Press" by a politiician from Idaho.

The same people that are saying that Obama is a Muslim, and there are many among registered Republican voters, are the same ones who will believe anything that is negative toward Obama. The truth does not matter. At this point, they want to be lied to and they don't care how fantastic the lie is.

That is the most surreal aspect of today's politics. The issues don't matter that much.

It is fantasy camp politics.

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