Jacob Heilbrunn

Barack Obama's Muslim Problem

 Barack Obama has a Muslim problem. Actually, he's had a problem ever since his political opponents have pointed to his middle name "Hussein," not to mention the controversy over Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, who was Obama's pastor for two decades. It's been compounded by Obama's (sensible) remarks about freedom of religion when it comes to establishing an Islamic community center in the vicinity of Ground Zero, which he cravenly and hastily tried to walk back.

Now comes this: according to a new Pew Research Center study, the number of Americans who believe that he is a devout Muslim is increasing. The number overall has increased from 11% to 18%. But the number of independent voters who believe this has also increased. The numbers seem to be directly related to views of his job performance. The worse Obama fares as president, the more voters believe that he is a Muslim. The White House says it's all the result of "misinformation campaigns" and that Obama gets daily prayers on his Blackberry.

But our high-tech president made one big mistake. Initially, he claimed that he would visit a variety of churches, which he did, and join one, which he didn't. Now if he joins one it will look like a desperate move. The Los Angeles Times' Andrew Malcom observes, "Since the Wright break, Obama has been unaffiliated with any specific faith, like only three previous presidents in U.S. history --Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson and his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln." Malcolm continues, "President Obama has publicly worshiped only sporadically, which may contribute to confusion over his religion and the poll's finding that 43% see the Democrat's decision-making as not very reliant on religious beliefs, while only 28% said that of George W. Bush (Methodist) in 2004."

If you think that the public piety of American presidents has been suffocating, then Obama's fitful public church attendance will be welcome. But as a political decision, it's highly questionable. Obama, as his poll numbers continue to sink and as more Americans become convinced that he is, in fact, a Muslim, has miscalculated. What's more, overweening White House arrogance has meant that it has been too haughty to deign to push back against the farrago of allegations percolating about Obama's citizenship and true religious faith.

As jobless claims have risen once again above 500,000, though, Obama may have to worry about something more than being viewed as a Muslim, which will always be a minority of voters. It's whether or not he will be seen by a majority of Americans as simply a failure.