It is almost as if some people are intentionally stretching the bounds of what can pass as reality.

At a campaign stop on Monday, Rick Santorum fielded a question from a woman who claimed that Barack Obama is "an avowed Muslim."  She added also that "he has no legal right to be president."  (Yes, birtherism is still alive and well; it may end up being one of America's most delusional and longest lasting conspiracy theories.)

Um, what?

President Obama has professed his Christian faith on several occasions and his longtime affiliation with Trinity United Church of Christ was unfairly smeared ad nauseum by the conservative press during the 2008 election.

Now, this isn't the first time that a UCCer has been accused of not really being a Christian, but the charge of "Unitarian Considering Christ" is much more common than "avowed Muslim."  And, depending on your perspective, maybe "Unitarian Considering Christ" seems a legitimate critique of certain Congregationalists.  My feeling, though, is that if they really warrant such a title, then they probably won't find it all too offensive.

For the record, the United Church of Christ was formed in 1957 when churches from the Congregationalist, Reformed, and Evangelical traditions banded together.  The polity of the UCC is such that the local congregation holds authority over things like the style of worship, social commitments, and theological convictions.  As such, the United Church of Christ is exceptionally diverse.  And, yes, some congregations strike Christians of the more conservative variety as being "not actually Christian."

If people want to squabble over which Protestants are properly Orthodox, then it's not really any skin off of my back.  Personally I find the whole premise a little bit silly, considering that Protestant denominations wouldn't exist at all without the Catholic Church having kept the Christian tradition alive for so long.  But, if you'd like to squabble about what Orthodoxy consists in, that's fine.  Just don't expect me to join you.

But "avowed Muslim?"  First of all, I'm generally of the opinion that the world needs more people of good faith rather than more people of a particular faith, to paraphrase Political Scientist Drew Westen.  So I don't see "avowed Muslim" as a pejorative.  But secondly and more importantly, what?  What sort of reality does one have to inhabit in order to think something like that?  I would imagine that even a person who had been exposed to no media at all besides Rush Limbaugh since birth would know better.

Rick Santorum's response was even more perturbing.  At the time, he addressed neither of the woman's claims.  Later that day, he told the moderators of a GOP debate:

Why do you guys ask these ‘gotcha’ questions, like it’s my job to go out and correct everybody who says something I don’t agree with? ... I don’t think it’s my responsibility. Why don’t you go out and correct her? It’s not my responsibility as a candidate to go out and correct everybody who makes a statement that I disagree with.

Okay, maybe it's not your responsibility to act as American political discourse's fact police all the time.  It is your responsibility as someone who deems himself to be fit for our highest public office to show some spine occasionally in the face of unambiguously toxic, untrue accusations.  That wasn't just a statement that you disagree with like an endorsement of a cap-and-trade policy.  It was, by any measure of reality, demonstrably false and representative of America's most reactionary, fearful impulses.

These are the sorts of statements that should make any remotely reasonable American cringe, not matters of debatable ideology.  Courting the reactionary vote by leaving whatever prejudices happen to be fashionable unchecked may be good politics, but it is absolutely horrible citizenship.  Making sure that our public discourse is guided by adherence to some measure of reality and basic facts is everyone's responsibility, and the failure to do so will not end well.

Image courtesy of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jared Hillary Ruark is a contributing scholar for State of Formation.

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Comment by Mystic Tourist on January 25, 2012 at 4:00pm

It is sad to see the political right courting such extreme beliefs. The Republican party base, seems today, to be the fringe. What disturbs me more than this tendency is what drives it, talk radio and Fox, or what I like to call, Fraud news. Fraud is straight up propaganda. News, at Fraud News, is is not their business, it is their tool. Any informed and objective individual can see what goes on at Fox. I do not understand how the people who work there live with themselves. I have watched the people at Fraud actually make stuff up, fiction, and report on it as if it were news. The fact that they actually do news reporting gives them an air of legitimacy. Their founding principal was to create a conservative bias in the news market to combat their perceived liberal media bias. (If you don't like the news go out and make some up, that you can call your own). They seem to have no ethic or moral to guide them except the notion that they are certain that they are right.