Michael Winship: The right manipulates Muslims — and Boy Scouts
I was never a Boy Scout, but I was a helluva Cub Scout.
Pack 30, First Congregational Church. I rose through the ranks: Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, Lion. I accumulated Gold and Silver Arrow points, the Cubs’ junior varsity version of merit badges. My mom was a Cub Scout den mother and spent a lot of time teaching fake Indian campfire songs and decorating various arts and crafts with poster paint.
But when the time came to transfer to the big guys, the Boy Scouts, I saw years of knot-tying and helping little old ladies across the street ahead of me and opted not to re-up. Nonetheless, I feel my time served qualifies me to have an opinion about President Obama not appearing in person at last week’s National Scout Jamboree in Caroline County, Va.
The Jamboree is a gathering of the clans that takes place every five years or so, and this year’s is especially significant, as 2010 marks the centennial of the Scouting movement in the United States.
But the right wing of this country, with the aid of Fox News and other media outlets, has opted to ignore many of the qualities one usually associates with a good Scout — trustworthiness, honesty and especially cleanliness — to sling mud at the president for not making a personal appearance at the Jamboree. Instead, he videotaped a message for the lads.
Not exactly a sin on the order of massive oil spills or ethnic purification. But to hear conservative commentators, you’d think he had at the very least used the flag to buff Air Force One. What these folks fail to mention is that President Obama met with a group of Scouts and their leaders just a little more than two weeks ago. In the Oval Office. In fact, the president does so every year, but this year, special attention was given to the centennial.
Admitting this, of course, would mess with the conservative narrative. Nor, it turns out, is this the first time that elements of the right have shamelessly tried to use the Boy Scouts, of all organizations, to impugn the Obama White House. A whispering campaign via e-mail (in cyberspace, no one can hear you scream) alleged that, unlike his predecessors, the president has refused to sign Eagle Scout certificates. As it turns out, there was a gap between the Bush and Obama presidencies when blank certificates were sent out.
But, as the debunking website www.snopes.com reports, “Production of new Eagle Scout certificates bearing President Obama’s signature … got underway in late 2009 for distribution to Scouts who obtained Eagle rank in Spring 2010. President Obama has also mailed over 13,000 personal letters of congratulation to individual Eagle Scouts.”
Now all of this would be simply silly if not for the fact that this is the pattern: Find a bright, shining lie, an often trivial issue, reshape it to your agenda of attack and fear, distort and dissemble, bang it like a drum to rouse the media circus and distract the public — and its public servants — from the critical work necessary to survive as a republic.
The Shirley Sherrod debacle at the Department of Agriculture last month is just one example. The current fight over building a “mosque” near Ground Zero here in Manhattan is another and perhaps the loudest. (Two blocks from the World Trade Center site, it is an Islamic study and community center with a small mosque attached).
Once again, downtown New Yorkers are faced with outsiders telling us our business. But as developer Sharif El-Gamal told Jordana Horn of The Jerusalem Post, “Those aren’t my neighbors, my friends or my New Yorkers. A vocal minority have come out to amplify their own agendas of hate and bigotry that have nothing to do with my project.”
Meanwhile, as the citizenry has its attention diverted by anti-Muslim harangues, on Thursday night, Republicans in Congress killed the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to help emergency workers and others near Ground Zero. As the New York Daily News reported, the bill “would spend $3.2 billion on health care over the next 10 years for people sickened from their exposure to the toxic smoke and debris of the shattered World Trade Center. It would spend another $4.2 billion to compensate victims over that span, and make another $4.2 billion in compensation available for the next 11 years.”
GOP members called it a “slush fund.” Is there a merit badge for classy?
Messenger Post contributor Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, N.Y., is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.