Franklin Graham Espouses Debunked "Birther" Claims

April 27, 2011

Ethics Daily ran my latest article today, which is entitled "Franklin Graham Espouses Debunked 'Birther' Claims." It deals with an interview Graham gave on Easter Sunday in which he questioned if President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. and if Obama is really a Christian. Coincidentally, just after my article went up, the White House released Obama's long-form birth certificate (he had long ago released the short-form version but had to get an exception to state law to release the long-form). This once again proved what had already been repeatedly proven--that Obama was born in Hawaii and not in Kenya (or on Mars). Perhaps even more surprising than Graham jumping on the "birther" argument was that Obama released the certificate. After all, it will not stop the most hardened "birthers" who will never accept that he is legitimately president (in fact, some of the top "birthers" have already spoken out today continuing their conspiracy theories). Instead, what this does is legitimatize the questions and attacks on him--as if "birthers" were right that he needed to release it. Yet, many Republican presidential hopefuls have not released their birth certificates and have not also been faced with these questions. This is why Jesse Jackson and others argue that racism is what is motivating the "birther" claims. It does seem that for some there is nothing Obama could do to remove questions other than going back into time and making his dad a white American. Hopefully, however, this will allow most Americans to finally move on to more important issues. And hopefully the media will take Obama's scolding this morning and stop focusing so much on dumb issues like this (otherwise what's next, giving tons of attention to anyone claiming without evidence that Martians shot JFK?).

Hopefully, Graham will now apologize for pushing "birther" claims. Unfortunately, however, he seems to be trying to play a clever game of undermining his political enemies without being as blunt and crazy as Donald Trump. In a Christianity Today piece yesterday, Graham denied questioning Obama's birth and faith while then going on to raise questions. He is acting like simply asking a question is not the same as making an attack (so he apparently would not be offended if someone simply asked him: "have you stopped beating your wife?"). He also gives a torturous argument trying to both say Obama was born a Muslim while claiming he is not saying Obama was born a Muslim. Basically, he invokes Sharia law to make the argument even though he does not believe in Sharia law and says it is not applicable in the U.S.--but then he goes on to apply it as if he believes it and it is applicable. On a much smaller scale, Graham makes this same type of confessional political attack on Mitt Romney. Graham stated: "He's a Mormon, but he is a smart business guy, a good man." So, Graham invokes Romney's faith in an evangelical magazine and uses the word "but" that would suggest that he thinks Mormons are not normally "smart" or "good." This type of linguistic hit-and-run is often called "dog whistle politics." Graham's father, Billy Graham (who was a spiritual adviser to several presidents), recently said one of his biggest regrets in life was spending so much time on politics:

I also would have steered clear of politics. I'm grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn't do that now.
It seems quite clear that his son Franklin needs to learn this lesson quickly because the acorn is falling far from the tree when it comes to tact and grace in the political arena.