The Corner

Politics & Policy

Thoughts on a Dumb Conversation

So we are now in day four of the “Muslim” conversation started when Donald Trump didn’t respond to a trollish question about Muslims at a town hall. A few thoughts.

1. Donald Trump is probably right that he has no “moral obligation” to defend Barack Obama. But he does have a moral obligation to dissent from bigotry and correct false statements made over his megaphone. Even if you disagree with that characterization (and I know many will), there’s still a political necessity. If Trump had shut down the question, he also would have forestalled this idiotic conversation that has now consumed much of the post-debate news cycle. If Trump were an experienced politician instead of an experienced entertainer, he would have instantly recognized the trap that the question posed and neutralized it, regardless of his “moral obligations.”

2. For instance, Meet the Press belabored the entirely hypothetical and ridiculous question of whether or not it would be okay to have a Muslim president. How is this question relevant to anyone’s life? Is there a Muslim candidate in the wings I am unaware of? The whole premise of the question seems to be to feed the news cycle on MSNBC (and elsewhere) for the coming week. It’s all a game. And such game-playing is exactly why so many people are disgusted with the conversation coming out of Washington. 

3. Still, Ben Carson lost that game. Why in the world would you let yourself get baited into saying you don’t want a Muslim president? Again, the question is entirely hypothetical. If Carson thinks we shouldn’t have a Muslim president, that is his right and I don’t think he should lie about his views. But why not just reject the question? “Chuck, no one in this country cares about a Muslim candidate who doesn’t exist. They care about jobs and blah blah blah.” It’s really not hard. Again, a more experienced politician would know that this was a “wedge” question designed to get Carson in trouble with the media or with some of his fans. 

4. One thing Carson should not have said is, ”The Constitution specifies that there shall be no religious test for public office, and I am a constitutionalist.” That’s what Ted Cruz said. It’s also the position of most of the Morning Joe panel, Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR, and countless others. First of all, in Carson’s defense, he never said anything about banning Muslims from the White House or from any other job. More to the point, the Constitution has nothing to do with it. JFK’s religion speech is not a Supreme Court case. Voters get to vote for whatever reason they want. If they don’t want to vote for a Muslim or a Mormon or a Jew simply out of animus for that faith, that may not speak well of those voters, but it’s not like anyone can appeal the constitutionality of the voters’ decision. If Hillary Clinton doesn’t win the presidency, she can’t file a lawsuit under Title IX either. 

5. Everyone loves all of this stuff about outsider politicians. I get that and I am sympathetic to it. But it’s just common sense that amateurs are going to make a lot more mistakes like this. 

6. Oh, how would I answer the question? Since you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you. Something like this:

I think this is a ridiculous question designed to create bogus controversies that distract from real issues and paint me and my party in a negative light. But since you asked: Of course a Muslim can be a president. So can Hindus, Buddhists and atheists. For that matter so can Satanist, Klingons and Jedis (if they’re natural-born American citizens of course). But that doesn’t mean a candidate’s faith is irrelevant. It is deeply relevant. Liberal politicians love to invoke their religious faith when defending welfare programs, spending on the environment and education. They only say faith has no place in politics when faith proves inconvenient to the liberal agenda. Suddenly, they don’t think the government should be imposing religious values on others. What they really mean is that no values should ever come before the liberal agenda. If a Muslim wants to run for president, great. Throw your hat in the ring and explain how your faith informs your agenda. The rest of us have to do it, so should a Muslim. If his answers are no good, he won’t get elected.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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