There is a clear, even stark, difference between the far-fetched and the absurd, and this difference came to mind as I read a recent New York Times article discussing the extreme politics of some Republican presidential hopefuls. There will be many polls in the coming months speculating on the front-runners and long shots in the Republican party as they seek to put the icing on their political comeback, which began in earnest last fall. Unfortunately, some candidates with bizarre talking points are making their way into the party’s mainstream.
Articles lamenting the craziness of Donald Trump’s birther bing - in which he questions the location of President Obama’s birth and, therefore, his legitimacy as president - also remark that he is ranked second in polls among potential Republican presidential candidates. I refuse to even dignify birther arguments in this article, but I will note that Trump and his like-minded friends are not the only ones to blame for the infiltration of this issue (which I believe to be a masked racist attack at President Obama) into our national debate.
The media is also at fault. When the media turns ridiculous assertions that are proven to be both untrue and combative into legitimate debate points, then it becomes complicit in the ignorant obstructionism that birthers engage in. The media’s job should be to inform and educate us regarding real issues and to help citizens frame policy and political debates in their minds.
Our country — and, generally, the world — is facing far too many pressing challenges at this particular moment for us to be distracted by sideshows. Americans are worried about the deficit, unemployment, and wars. Countries are in turmoil due to natural disasters and aspirations for human rights. Times are so dire that politicians have felt the need to leave their states in order to futilely fight legislation against unions, and a government shutdown was a very real threat not long ago. In short, there is much to seriously debate at this time with regard to the scope and role of our government in our country and around the world.
A presidential election affords our country the perfect opportunity to have a national debate over these issues. At best, we can vigorously deliberate the ideals of our country and how we hope to achieve them in a meaningful, pragmatic way. At worst, we can be distracted by hollow quips from fringe movements that have nothing to do with policy, but rather cater to racist and discriminatory undertones that still hold weight in certain segments of our society.
In the midst of global and domestic crises, some Republican candidates would like to debate President Obama’s heritage. Candidates have made claims that Barack Obama is the most “radical” president in the history of the United States. As a liberal, I find this pretty far-fetched, but at least this is an idea worth debating. What does it mean to be radical? Does President Obama have those traits? How does this affect the way he views the scope of government domestically? Internationally? To what extent has Obama expanded the size of government relative to other presidents?
We need not pull all punches in order to have a “politically correct” debate. There are people who are angry with Barack Obama over healthcare and his handling of the economy. But, while it is okay to get emotional, it is important to express that anger through valid facts.
In the upcoming election cycle, let’s focus on issues, not prejudice. Let’s talk about Libya, not Kenya.
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