Practical philosophy
What did we learn this week?

The right to bear facts

Obama_muslim_garb  Every American is entitled to his own facts, not just his own opinions. 

It's in the Bill of Rights. Look it up.  

That may help explain the results of some new polling by the highly respected Pew Research Center. Pew reported last week that the proportion of people who think Obama is a Christian has declined sharply over the past year, from 51% to 34%. 

What makes this perplexing is that it concerns a matter of fact, not opinion. 

It's one thing for increasing numbers of people to think he's a socialist, but doubting his professed religion (not to mention the 34% of conservative Republicans who think he's Muslim) seems to be in a different category altogether.  

The issue of Obama's religion came up early in his campaign, triggered in part by his father's Muslim faith, the years he spent as a kid in Indonesia, his "funny" last name, and some confusion with the first Muslim congressman who took the oath of office with his hand on the Koran.  

Obama's political opponents used all this -- along with the widely emailed photo above, taken when Senator Obama was on an official visit to Kenya -- in an effort to make his religion an issue when he ran for president. It didn't work then, and one would expect fewer people -- not more -- to fall for it now.  

Except that the comparison to opinions about his socialist creds is not really that different.  

People's opinion that Obama is a socialist is based, at least in part, on three factors: their interpretation of his actions, media reports of the accusation, and an overall decline in his popularity. 

Ironically, some of the actions taken by the Bush administration (TARP), along with Obama's own efforts to deal with the Great Recession (the American Recovery Act and the auto bailouts), as well as to keep campaign promises (Healthcare Reform), can be interpreted as government interference with free enterprise.  

That's exactly the spin Republicans are giving them, and their shorthand for it is that Obama is a Socialist. Polls and media reports simply give the idea more currency.

Similarly, Obama's outreach to the Muslim world, his apparent support for a mosque near Ground Zero, and his family's decision not to join a Washington-area church have created the impression that he is, at best, an agnostic and, at worse, secretly a Muslim.  

When Pew asks a question about Obama's faith, it gives people an opportunity to voice their disapproval of the man, whether or not his religion plays a role in their attitudes. (In fact, they may not even be expressing an opinion about Obama, but about their own economic situation. But that's a different topic.)  

Then of course when the media reports on the Pew Research, it puts the issue back in play. People who weren't following the controversy all that closely begin to think there's something to it. 

That's how opinions become facts. 

Palin_bikiniAnd just so you don't think I believe the political right has a corner on this, consider this widely emailed photo of a bikini-clad, gun-toting Sarah Palin.

What "fact" is being promoted here?


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