Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

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How Will the 2016 Candidates Deal With Anti-Islamic Sentiment In Their Party?

(Flickr/Dan Nguyen)

My Plum Line post today is about what looks like a growing sentiment on the right that we should indeed be in a clash of civilizations, between the Christian West and Islam. When Bill O'Reilly is literally calling for a "holy war," practically every Republican is complaining that President Obama doesn't call terrorism "Islamic" often enough, and people like Senator Lindsey Graham are saying things like, "When I hear the president of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we're in a religious war, it really bothers me," then there's something significant going on.

We're now entering the time when the party's most prominent politicians will be going out and meeting the voters, which will almost inevitably result in some instances where somebody says something horribly bigoted and the candidate has to decide how to react. Here's some of what I had to say about it:

The real test of how mainstream this kind of anti-Islamic sentiment has grown within the GOP isn't so much what those like Huckabee and Jindal say—they've obviously decided that advocating for religious war is the path to becoming the favored candidate of Christian conservatives (though they seem to have forgotten that the candidate who wins that mantle almost never gets the GOP nomination). The test is whether we see candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio, who are looking to appeal to a wider group of voters, dipping their toes in those rancid waters.

One Republican candidate has done the right thing in response to this question. In 2011, Chris Christie appointed Sohail Mohammed to a state judgeship, a decision for which he was attacked by some conservatives in the most blatantly bigoted ways you can imagine. The critics called Mohammed, an accomplished attorney, a terrorist sympathizer and someone who would attempt to impose sharia law on the citizens of New Jersey. Christie treated the criticisms with the contempt they deserved. "This sharia law business is crap," he said. "It's just crazy and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."

But that was then. We'll see what the candidates do when someone at an Iowa town meeting stands up and says something grossly anti-Muslim, because that absolutely will happen. Will they agree? Will they just try to change the subject? Or will they say, "Now hold on there"? That'll show us what they’re really made of.

And while we're on the subject, anyone who says that all this "We can't defeat terrorism if Obama won't say 'Islamic terrorism!'" fury isn't in large part about the conservative belief that Barack Obama isn't a "real" American is just full of it. For instance, read this quote, which I'm sure many Republicans would agree is an "apology" for Islam, and evidence of how Barack Obama coddles our enemies: "Islam is a vibrant faith. Millions of our fellow citizens are Muslim. We respect the faith. We honor its traditions. Our enemy does not. Our enemy doesn't follow the great traditions of Islam. They've hijacked a great religion." Or this one: "All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true faith—face of Islam. Islam is a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. It's a faith that has made brothers and sisters of every race. It's a faith based upon love, not hate." Or this one: "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."

How can a president who would bend over backward like that to praise Islam possibly fight Islamic terrorism, conservatives might ask? But those words, and many others like them, weren't spoken by Barack Obama. They were spoken by George W. Bush. I was not exactly a fan of Bush's when he was president, but in the immediate aftermath of September 11 and for years afterward, he took pains to emphasize that America was not at war with a religion. And I don't recall too many Republicans complaining at the time.

Why Did Ronald Reagan Hate America?

Just a couple of America-haters pretending to be cowboys. (State Department photo)

Ronald Reagan has been dead for more than a decade, but it's long past the time for us as a nation to come to grips with the fact that this two-term president really didn't love America. Scholars will have to debate whether he just had a mild distaste for the land of the free, or whether he actively hated America and wanted to see it laid low. But the rest of us need to confront this ugly legacy.

To begin with, Reagan came into office promising a fundamental change. As radio host Mark Levin recently said, "when somebody says they want to fundamentally transform America, well, then you must not love America." By that measure, Reagan had no love. Here's part of what he said in a speech on election eve, 1980:

In thinking about these questions, many Americans seem to be wondering, searching . . . feeling frustrated and perhaps even a little afraid.

Many of us are unhappy about our worsening economic problems, about the constant crisis atmosphere in our foreign policy, about our diminishing prestige around the globe, about the weakness in our economy and national security that jeopardizes world peace, about our lack of strong, straight-forward leadership.

And many Americans today, just as they did 200 years ago, feel burdened, stifled and sometimes even oppressed by government that has grown too large, too bureaucratic, too wasteful, too unresponsive, too uncaring about people and their problems.

Americans, who have always known that excessive bureaucracy is the enemy of excellence and compassion, want a change in public life—a change that makes government work for people. They seek a vision of a better America, a vision of society that frees the energies and ingenuity of our people while it extends compassion to the lonely, the desperate, and the forgotten.

All that talk of change, characterizing Americans as fearful and stifled? Why couldn't Reagan just accept the country that had given him so much?

And it didn't start in 1980. Back in 1965, Reagan promised that an America with a Medicare program would be a hellhole of socialist oppression. Only someone with no faith in our country could say something like this:

If you don't [write letters to stop Medicare], this program I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until one day as Normal Thomas said we will wake to find that we have socialism, and if you don't do this and I don't do this, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

I don't know if he actually spent his sunset years running down America to his grandchildren, but it wouldn't surprise me. And there's more: Did you know that Reagan didn't just pal around with terrorists like some people, he actually sold weapons to them? It's true. How could anyone who loved America do such a thing? And when Islamic terrorists killed 241 brave American servicemembers, did Reagan stand up for America? No, he turned tail and ran, like some kind of cowardly commie. And he even apologized for America!

Where did all this disdain for America come from? We may never know. Maybe it was his upbringing, or the crowd he ran with in high school, or the Hollywood types he fell in with in his career as an actor.

I know what you're thinking: Hold on, didn't Reagan sing America's praises in speeches all the time? Sure he did. For instance, he said, "I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible." He said, "You know, this country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores. Instead, it is that American spirit, that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend." And he said, "We keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon knowing that providence is with us and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on earth."

OK, it wasn't actually Reagan who said those things, it was this guy. But those were the kinds of things Reagan said.

But anybody can say that stuff. How can you tell whether the words are being offered sincerely by someone who loves America, or whether it's all a big lie? The key is to make the conclusion your starting point. Do that, and you'll understand that when he criticized decisions made by a prior administration, he was actually making clear his hatred of America. You'll know that you can look for the worst person he ever met one time at a party, and impute all that person's views to him. You'll be able to look at any action he took and find its true motivation in his contempt for this country. Once you've decided that Reagan hated America, everything else makes sense and all the pieces fall into place.

Photo of the Day, Chill Over Washington Edition

Marine One takes President Obama from the White House. And can I just say, winter isn't a competition, people. It's not about who got more snow, or who's being too whiny by complaining about the cold. It's cold out there. If you want to complain, go ahead and complain. Complaining about people complaining about the cold isn't any more noble than complaining about the cold.

But I'll bet it's nice and toasty inside that chopper.

'Obama Never Praises America' May Be the Single Dumbest Criticism Republicans Have

Not that you needed a reminder that Rudy Giuliani is a contemptible jerk, but the former New York mayor has managed to find his way back in the news in the only way he can, which is to to say something appalling. I'm going to try to take this opportunity to explore something meaningful about the way we all look at our allies and opponents, but first, here's what Giuliani said at an event for Scott Walker:

"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America," Giuliani said during the dinner at the 21 Club, a former Prohibition-era speakeasy in midtown Manhattan. "He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."

O.K., so we've heard this a million times before, though usually from talk radio hosts and pundits, but less often from prominent politicians. Offered a chance to clarify later, here's how Rudy explained himself:

"Well first of all, I'm not questioning his patriotism. He's a patriot, I'm sure," the former mayor of New York said on Fox and Friends Thursday morning. "What I'm saying is, in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things that I used to hear Bill Clinton say about how much he loves America."

Obama is different from his predecessors in that respect, Giuliani said.

"I do hear him criticize America much more often than other American presidents," he told the morning show hosts. "And when it's not in the context of an overwhelming number of statements about the exceptionalism of America, it sounds like he's more of a critic than he is a supporter."

He's not questioning Obama's patriotism, he's just saying he doesn't love America. Got it—thanks for clearing that up. I'm not saying Rudy is foolish and immoral, I'm just saying he's a cretinous dirtbag. So no offense.

But what I'm really interested in is Giuliani's explanation that he "very rarely hear[s]" Obama say patriotic things, but he "do[es] hear him criticize America." It's safe to say a lot of conservatives feel the same way. They hear these criticisms of America all the time from Obama! But never a word of praise for this country!

It would be great if the next person who interviewed Rudy (or anyone else making the same claim) asked him to name some of these many criticisms of America that he has "heard" from Obama. Because my guess is that he wouldn't be able to come up with any. What he has heard, however, is other people saying that Obama criticizes America. If you spend a day watching Fox News, you'll probably hear that assertion a dozen times. The idea that Obama constantly criticizes America, like the fictitious "apology tour" assertion from Obama's first term, is something conservatives say over and over but almost never back up with any actual evidence.

If pressed, they might be able to come up with times when Obama has said that prior administrations have made mistakes, like the Bush administration enacting a policy of torturing prisoners. But these aren't criticisms of America per se, any more than Republicans are criticizing America when they say we shouldn't have passed the Affordable Care Act. If criticizing something the American government did means you're aren't a patriot, then the Republican Party is the most anti-American organization in the world today. Al Qaeda has nothing on them.

Perhaps even more revealing is Giuliani's assertion that he rarely hears Obama praise America. The truth is that like all presidents, Obama heaps praise on America constantly. For instance, here's a bit of vicious America-hating from his last State of the Union address:

I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong. I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.

I believe this because over and over in my six years in office, I have seen America at its best. I've seen the hopeful faces of young graduates from New York to California, and our newest officers at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, New London. I've mourned with grieving families in Tucson and Newtown, in Boston, in West Texas, and West Virginia. I've watched Americans beat back adversity from the Gulf Coast to the Great Plains, from Midwest assembly lines to the Mid-Atlantic seaboard. I've seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home.

So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the American people who every day live the idea that we are our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper. And I know they expect those of us who serve here to set a better example.

Look at any major speech Obama has given, and you'll find similar passages. But Giuliani isn't lying when he says he doesn't "hear" that. The words pass through his ears into his brain, but they don't register, because he decided long ago that Barack Obama is incapable of such thoughts.

And if you read that passage or any of a hundred like it directly to Giuliani, how would he respond? He'd probably say that, sure, Obama spoke those words, but they weren't an expression of his real feelings; they were artifice, meant to conceal the sinister truth lying deep within. The words tell us nothing. On the other hand, when Obama says something critical about a Bush administration policy, the words reveal his hatred of America.

To a certain degree we're all prey to this tendency. Once we've made our conclusions about who our political opponents are deep within their souls, we want to accept at face value only their statements that reinforce the view we already have of them. But you'll notice that Giuliani wasn't only stating his opinion about what lies in Obama's heart, he attempted to justify that opinion with a statement of fact. Giuliani's argument is that he concluded that Obama doesn't love America because he assessed that Obama so seldom says nice things about America. That's like saying that you think Tom Brady is a bad quarterback because he hasn't won any Super Bowls. Maybe you have some other reason why you think Tom Brady is a bad quarterback, or maybe you just don't like him, but if what you offer as the basis of your opinion is his lack of Super Bowl wins, there's no reason why anyone should take you seriously.

Not that there was much reason to take Rudy Giuliani seriously to begin with. But he's expressing beliefs that are not just common but absolutely rampant on the right. 

Photo of the Day, Canine Glory Edition

This is the elegant if ridiculously named Miss P, the winner of last night's Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Backstage, an inconsolable owner wondered when the Mexican hairless would get the respect it deserves. "All they care about is looks!" he cried. "I think I'll lick my butt," his dog silently replied.