The tongue-tied speaker

When it comes to President Obama’s policies, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is happy to tell the American people what to think. But he draws the line at asking his constituents and others to abandon the belief that the president is a foreign-born Muslim. Boehner’s selective tongue-tiedness insults the president and encourages the denial industry.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Boehner was willing to concede that he believes Obama is both a native-born citizen and a Christian. But, the speaker said, that was because “I’ll take him at his word,” as if Obama’s assurances were the only corroboration of his citizenship and his religion. In fact, a “certificate of live birth” establishes that he was born in Hawaii. As for his religion, Obama’s involvement with a Chicago church is well documented.

Even more objectionable was Boehner’s response to David Gregory’s question about whether, as speaker, “it’s your responsibility to speak out against that kind of ignorance?” Boehner responded: “David, it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. The American people have the right to think what they want to think.”


At the very least, Boehner should have added: “Even if it’s preposterous.” A 2010 CNN poll found that 11% of respondents believe Obama was “definitely” not born in the United States and 16% said he “probably” was not. A Pew survey taken at roughly the same time found that one in five Americans thought Obama was a Muslim; 34% of conservative Republicans held that belief.

No one would argue that Boehner singlehandedly can extinguish these political urban legends. But he is in a powerful position to preach reality to his own partisans. That, Mr. Speaker, is your job.