Friday, March 14, 2008

Descending into xenophobia

First, to be clear, this is not about my personal choice in the current presidential race. None of you care who I favor, and it has nothing to do with the main point of this blog. So please do not take what follows as an endorsement of any particular candidate.

The other night, I overheard someone say, "I can't vote for Obama. I think he really is a Muslim."

This past Saturday, I read a column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times that included the following:

And then there was Mrs. Clinton on “60 Minutes,” being interviewed by Steve Kroft. He had shown a clip on the program of a voter in Ohio who said that he’d heard that Senator Obama didn’t know the national anthem, “wouldn’t use the Holy Bible,” and was a Muslim.

Mr. Kroft asked Senator Clinton if she believed that Senator Obama is a Muslim. In one of the sleaziest moments of the campaign to date, Senator Clinton replied: “No. No. Why would I? No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”

As far as I know.

In earlier posts, I have referenced the tendency in US politics to descend into xenophobia, and here we see it happening in front of our eyes.

Wouldn't it have been refreshing to hear Senator Clinton respond to Kroft by saying, "Steve, I don't know why you are asking that question. It has nothing to do with a person's qualifications, and I am not going to spend time on it or respond to those kind of questions." Instead, she clearly felt that it would be beneficial to her campaign to give the kind of answer she did.

Which is more disturbing, that a candidate feels that such an answer will help her cause and would stoop to such a tactic? Or that such an answer might actually help her cause?

There are lots of ways to count how many people are affiliated with different religions in America, but one thing is clear. People's choice of religion has no bearing on their patriotism, or their qualification for public office. And using a particular religious belief as a code word for the country's concerns about terrorism or some other issue just is not right. Can't we please expect the candidates for the highest office in the land to take these teachable moments to expand the horizons of America's voters rather than helping them descend along despicable paths?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I can be partisan, and to me her comment just epitomizes why I have no intention of voting for her. Unfortunately she will force Obama into similar tactics just to survive, because it's proven that negative advertising works. THAT is the scary fact - why are we so susceptible to believing this stuff?
Not to minimize your comments concerning xenophobia. Accepting those different from us is what makes our country unique in the world - some of our citizens have forgotten that fact.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that.

As someone who has worked at 5 different hospitals and consulted at dozens more (hence the anonymous...), you give me hope that there are some people at the top with a sense of ethics, not to mention common sense, as strong as mine.

The truly sad thing about your post is that these kind of reactions are coming from the so-called more enlightened states.

But on the plus side, it seems to me that this kind of politics is having far less of an effect than it ever has in the past. That is an encouraging trend and we can only hope it has less to do with the candidate than it does to do with the general sentiment of the voters.

Anonymous said...

I saw that interview. He asked her THREE times. She was not with this guy all his life--she could not say to her certain knowledge. Why even ask her--ask him if you care so much. In the same set of interviews he asked had the interviewer set a guy straight who thought he was a Muslim. Why is that the interviewer's job? To me, it might also be a teachable moment for the candidate to say, "Hussein is my middle name, don't wear it out. I am not a Muslim, but even if I were, it's one of the world's three great religions and I would be proud of it."

Anonymous said...

"Can't we please expect the candidates for the highest office in the land to take these teachable moments to expand the horizons of America's voters rather than helping them descend along despicable paths?"

Obviously not. Any other questions?

Oh, I have one: why did Steve Kroft ask Hillary the question in the first place?

mibsphil said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I would only add that not only does a person's choice of religion have no bearing on their patriotism or qualifications, having no religion at all shouldn't matter, either. It bothers me terribly that we have become so hung up on religious trappings, as though religious belief necessarily makes someone a better person. Historically, how many wars have been started in the name of religion? Morality, values, ethics, etc. do not belong solely to those who profess religious beliefs.

Anonymous said...

I AM a partisan (Republican) and no fan of Senator Clinton, but this is ridiculous. As one commenter already noted, Clinton was asked the question three times. Each time she said no, but by the third time, she had run out of wasys to say 'no'. If you read the transcript of the whole interview (as opposed to what the NY Times chose to publish) it is very clear that 'as far as i know' is filler, not some insidious plot to attract the xenophobic vote.

Anonymous said...

I have a slightly different take on this. She just should have said that he's a Christian. It's true, isn't it? Answering the way you propose just leaves the door open for someone to keep wondering whether he is in fact a Muslim or not.

Paul Levy said...

Thanks, Anon 5:12, a good point -- but politicians know how to answer repeated questions or deflect them. Senator Clinton is among the best in that regard.

Anonymous said...

The main point of your post, that xenophobia, racism, and religious prejudice exist in America, is hard to argue with. It also is clear that gender stereotyping works against women in politics. As another example, a Jewish person could not be elected President of the United States.

It is extremely unfortunately that you you tried to portray Mrs. Clinton the standard bearer for racism and religious prejudice as I don't think this is a fair characterization of her life or her work. Apparently, if Mr. Obama is not nominated, Mrs. Clinton will be to blame very whatever is wrong with our politics and our nation. The columnist you quote is typical of the overheated rhetoric of this political season.

Anonymous said...

I'm anon at 7:18. Reading over my comment, I see I didn't express myself very well. I agree with your sentiment that whether Obama is a Muslim or not is irrelevant, and that this could have been a teachable moment. What I meant is that I don't see any reason why she couldn't put the matter to rest by simply stating the fact that he is a Christian. I see that as a fact, not something that is denigrating to Muslims or non-Christians. Saying that you're not going to respond to the question could be interpreted to mean you have some doubt in your mind, thus encouraging the rumors to keep circulating (to the benefit of Sen. Clinton and possibly harming Sen. Obama).

Ian McCarty said...

The best way for Hillary to have responded would have been "There are lots of ways to count how many people are affiliated with different religions in America, but one thing is clear. People's choice of religion has no bearing on their patriotism, or their qualification for public office. And using a particular religious belief as a code word for the country's concerns about terrorism or some other issue just is not right."

Bravo, Paul, for bringing this issue to light, and for stating it so eloquently. These are the most unfortunate byproducts of our political process, and it's truly a shame that this sort of questioning is necessary at all.

Paul Levy said...

Anon 9:39,

I did not try to portray her as a standard bearer for racism or any such thing. I have known Mrs. Clinton since 1979, when I worked for her husband in Arkansas, and I know them both to be very strong advocates for civil rights. They point I was trying to make was a much more simple one -- that it would be great if a candidate like her could have used this opportunity to weaken certain voices in this campaign..

Anonymous said...

Wait, isn't this blog about running one of the greatest hospitals in the nation? How did I get here? Where am I? Wouldn't it have been refreshing to find the blog I had bookmarked instead of the same recycled garbage...

Paul Levy said...

Sorry, don't read the posts you don't like. But it would be a shame if you miss a good one about soccer, dance, music, or art, too!

Anonymous said...

Paul, while I find your hospital-related posts especially interesting, I also enjoy reading your postings that foray into other topics. Please keep doing that.

Anon 8.45, I doubt you have any standing to demand how anyone who's freely taking the time to write a remarkable resource chooses to spend his/her writing time. There's more to life than serious business anyway, and I think that balance comes out quite nicely in Paul's writing. It's refreshing to see a leader who can be conversant on a range of topics, and to get a sense of the humanity behind the organization's leadership.

Anonymous said...

Aieeee, I just found out from Paul's own hand that he used to work for Bill Clinton???!!! Some things I'd rather not know!! (tongue firmly in cheek. (:)
Just goes to show ya we can disagree on important things and still all get along.

Paul Levy said...

Anon, 4:19. I was young....

Go hogs!

Marie said...

Thank you, Paul, for such a clear denunciation. Please send it to both campaigns.
marie