In a historic speech on Wednesday, President Obama addressed a Baltimore-area mosque of 200 Muslim-Americans and decried anti-Islamic rhetoric. He also highlighted to any young Muslims in this country that they are not Muslim or American, but Muslim and American. Overall, across the political spectrum, the speech was seen as powerful, important and necessary.
Of course, since we are in the middle of an election, and all things Obummer are bad in Republican circles, some of the GOP candidates tried to use the speech as a negative against POTUS and a conservative campaign talking point. Specifically, the Muslim banner himself Donald Trump and new Mr. Establishment Marco Rubio tossed out some red meat for their supporters.
Now, Trump pretty much went the way you’d expect, not-too-subtly hinting that Obama was a secret Muslim who likely felt more comfortable being around those of his kind. In an interview with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday evening, the celebrity billionaire had the following to say:
“I don’t have much thought, I think that we can go to lots of places. Right now, I don’t know if he’s — maybe he feels comfortable there. We have a lot of problems in this country, Greta, there are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque. I saw that just a little while ago, and so that’s his decision, that’s fine.”
Typical dog whistling from the lead dog catcher. Just enough to contend that he didn’t really say what you thought you heard, but more than enough to get the point across to his admirers.
Meanwhile, Rubio’s comments about Obama’s appearance at the mosque were more pointed, with the surging Republican White House hopeful claiming that the President was using the speech to further drive a wedge between the American people. In his opinion, the mere mention of Islamophobia and the violence directed against Muslim-Americans does damage to the country as it fights against “radical Islam.”
Speaking at a town hall in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Rubio told voters the following regarding his thoughts on Obama’s address:
“I’m tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president’s done. Always pitting people against each other. Always.
Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there’s going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves. But again, it’s this constant pitting people against each other — that I can’t stand that. It’s hurting our country badly. We can disagree on things, right? I’m a Dolphin fan, you’re a Patriot fan.”
Yep, the Florida Senator seriously equated bigotry in this country to rooting for different sports teams. Basically, we need a leader who can realize that Muslims are just on a different team, and therefore need to be treated as enemies, regardless if they are American or not.
The odd thing here is that Rubio’s comments didn’t get nearly the media play that Trump’s did. Perhaps it is because the Beltway pundit class has already anointed Marco as the Republican savior who will save the party for a Trump/Cruz disaster, so anything he says like this needs to be swept under the rug.
Vox’s Max Fisher brought this up in his piece on Thursday, claiming that Rubio’s comments are actually far worse than Trump’s, but the media won’t call him out because he isn’t as overt with his bigotry as The Donald and the concern about appearing partisan.
But Rubio’s comments were substantially worse. His accusation that Obama is enabling the “radical Islam” threat that could destroy America, and his argument that perpetuating Islamophobia is fine or perhaps even necessary, directly feeds into widespread fear and suspicion of American Muslims, which has become actively violent.
However, Rubio’s message is communicated in dog whistles and barely veiled insinuation, whereas Trump came right out and suggested that Obama is Muslim, so Rubio’s comments are deemed acceptable whereas Trump’s are not.
American political media is very comfortable calling out lies like Trump’s because it is a black-and-white issue that is easily provable: Trump says Obama is Muslim, Obama is not Muslim, therefore Trump is lying and this is bad. The media is also comfortable calling out overt racism.
Calling out dog whistles or insinuations is harder, because it requires the reporter to stake out an analytical position, however obvious, that can be scrutinized or challenged. And that, in turn, opens up the reporter to the most feared label of all: bias or, worse, partisanship. Political candidates understand that the media fears accusations of bias more than it fears enabling violent racism, particularly violent racism against a class of people such as Muslims who lack much political power.
The effect of this is to allow political party establishments and their interests to dictate the boundaries for what does and does not constitute bigotry. When it came to be in the narrow electoral interest of the Republican Party to see Trump defeated, the party signaled it would no longer consider Trump one of its own, and this fact ended up shaping when the media will and will not challenge Islamophobia.
Trump’s comments are racist because the GOP has an interest in seeing him lose. Rubio’s comments are acceptable because the GOP has an interest in seeing him win. Islamophobia is deemed acceptable or unacceptable based on the speaker’s proximity to the political establishment, rather than on the actual merits or harm of those statements.
Therein lies the rub. The political media complex has painted Marco Rubio as the moderate, reasonable, appealing choice in this race, specifically as it has pretty much been pared down to three candidates, and the other two are deranged sociopaths. Thus, the narrative has been set, and nothing can derail it.