via memeorandum:

It’s witch-hunt season, Krugman at the NYT darkly warns, and rumors that President Obama is a Muslim is one of the issues defining the witches to be hunted.

[Speaking in New Orleans] President Barack Obama dismissed a recent poll showing that a third of Americans don’t know he’s a Christian -– and blamed an online campaign of misinformation by his conservative enemies for perpetuating the myth that he’s a Muslim. (Glenn Thrush / The Politico)

President Barack Obama blamed a “network of misinformation” for causing a growing number of Americans to question his Christianity or to persuade some that he was not born in the United States.  He said he was not particularly worried about either misconception. (Laura Meckler / Washington Wire)

So why the pushback?

We have, over the years, had Presidents of many faiths. George Washington, the emblematic Founding Father, worshipped with Anglicans, whose catechism, then and now, includes a pledge of loyalty and fidelity to the British Crown. Jefferson was an atheist and said so, despite also being formally an Anglican; there have been many Protestants of various stripes, and many more — the sets overlap — whose professed faith was a matter of expediency. John F. Kennedy and his family were Catholics. The Constitution specifically forbids any “religious test for office”. The religious faith of a President should be, and for the most part is, a matter of indifference, especially in recent years. So long as a President takes, and means, the oath of office, it shouldn’t matter. Why the outraged pushback against “accusations” — the very word embodies pushback — that the present President has a particular faith?

President Kennedy’s example is instructive. I was alive and awake during his campaign, though not yet an adult, and I well remember the whisper-and-rumor campaigns that went around our sleepy Southern town: The man’s a Catholic, his allegiance is to the Pope. He’s gonna take instruction from an old man in Italy, and that Just Ain’t Right. Kennedy’s reaction, and that of his campaign staff, was relatively forthright: Yes, I’m a Catholic. I take religious instruction from the Church hierarchy, but I don’t need and don’t take political or secular commands from that source. As your President, my first loyalty will be to the Constitution and to you, the People. The argument carried the day, as it should have — people who didn’t, and sometimes still don’t, agree with Kennedy’s policies or his behavior in office don’t base their objections on his religious faith, but on his behavior. Regardless of what his faith might be, why can’t Barack Obama make the same argument?

More importantly, why can’t his supporters? Why the full-throated, almost hysterical denunciations of the “accusations” that Obama is a Muslim? A President’s faith should be irrelevant, and the same faction that supports Obama has been shouting from the housetops for decades that all religious faith is irrelevant; why should it suddenly be relevant (and considered damaging) in this case? The United States has never before had a black President; now it does, and this is presented as a vast improvement in the American social contract — which it is. There has never been a Muslim President, either. Why should that not be considered a significant indicator of greater tolerance and acceptance of diversity?

The response to the “accusations” should approximate Yeah? So what? Instead it’s Nonononooo it’s not true you poopyheads! — and that violates all the stated beliefs and principles of the people doing the defending. It’s a mystery, it is. What’s going on?