10.07.2012 _____________________

I remember, in the 1950s, accompanying my mother to the First National supermarket. Waiting in the check-out line she would be drawn to the latest iteration of the National Enquirer, with its garish headlines about conspiracies, sex and aliens with three breasts.

Embarrassed, I’d always ask her to put it away before people saw her looking at it. True to my recently acquired adolescent sophistication, I would patiently explain what rubbish it all was. Fortunately, she never actually bought it!

“Why? It’s in print. It must be true. They can’t print something that’s not true.”

Yes, Mummy, they can. They still do.

Otherwise, I wonder, how is it that someone can be so ignorant to actually believe that there is a free government phone program at www.obamaphone.net? Really, how can anyone think that a government program would be on an other than .gov website, or that the government would actually name it “Obamaphone?”

“Why? It’s in print. It must be true.”

Daily, I receive e-mails from two fervent Romney supporters. They’re people I like, they’re not harassing me. I asked them to share e-mails that they receive about President Obama. What I get is scary, not because of the racism and prejudice they embody, but because of the intellectual laziness and ignorance they reflect. They reflect a failure of tolerance; a rejection of American values and morals.

Typical is: “Well, ya know, Obama is a ‘Post Turtle’ …; You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he’s up there, he’s elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumb idiots put him up there to begin with.”

Dog whistling.

In my mind there are three groups opposed to President Obama. First, Republicans who are legitimately and philosophically opposed to the Obama administration, who believe in smaller government and are concerned about debt and deficits — a basis for legitimate debate.

Second, and I believe the smallest of the three, are those who support Mitt Romney because they think he would be a great president.

Third, the ugliest and most under-polled group, is composed of bigots, haters and racists. Dog whistlers. They don’t care about Romney. He is their tool to disenfranchise Obama. They’re fans of Dinesh D’Souza, David Duke, Pamela Geller and Terry Jones. These Americans have turned their backs on truth and fairness and envision an America ruled by its lowest common denominators.

A friend of mine, a naturalized American from Iran, recently returned to Isfahan to sell some inherited real estate. Even as Ahmed negotiates a sale price, which he hopes will someday finance his children’s education, if he is able to repatriate his funds, the Iranian economy is crashing around him. It’s a bad time in Iran.

This is the America I support. Crippling sanctions are working. Obama has held a steady hand and, in spite of NeoCon and Israeli demands to be more confrontational, the president maintained a long view and his patience is paying off. By the time Iranian elections roll around in 2013 the United States will be confronting a much different Iran, still nationalistic but more engaged in the international community.

His is the hand I trust.

Republicans and Democrats often cross boundaries as they try to enhance their candidate’s attributes and emphasize perceived undesirable aspects of their opponents. This is expected. Diligent and concerned citizens can discern between political opportunism and outright lies. We have Google!

Mitt Romney lied during the first debate — especially about his tax and health care plans. Given the president’s poor performance Romney would have won without the lies — but he couldn’t help himself. It is in his nature; bend with the wind, believe nothing, say whatever works.

Meanwhile, many supporters don’t listen for truth: They listen for dog whistles.

A reader challenged my previous assertion that when Romney accused President Obama of sympathizing with Muslim extremists it was a coded way of saying Obama is a secret Muslim. He wondered if I was reverting to a “childhood world of Captain Midnight’s secret coded rings.”

Actually, I was listening to the dog whistles, which Wikipedia defines as “political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.” Wink.

Speak in code.

Romney, and his supporters, many of whom are legitimately engaged in a philosophical challenge to the Obama administration, are afraid to dissociate themselves from their dog-whistling fringe.

Therefore, they own them.

They own the Americans who claim, “We know no more about Obama’s background today than we did in 2008. All of his records are sealed.”

Who claim “He has appeased Islam and assailed our Judeo/Christian heritage,”

Who falsely claim Obama has apologized for America.

They own those who embrace Dinesh D’Souza, who suggests that Obama has a “Third-World anti-American” viewpoint and is “weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadis.” I wonder what Osama bin Laden and other dead senior Taliban and al Qaeda officials feel about Obama’s sympathy.

“Remember, Mummy, just because it’s in print — or in the movies — doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Marcus Borg wrote, “To be Christian means to find the decisive revelation of God in Jesus. To be Muslim means to find the decisive revelation of God in the Koran. To be Jewish means to find the decisive revelation of God in the Torah, and so forth.” This makes sense to me.

And to be American means to find guidance in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. To be American is to be guided by our communal experience of over two centuries of sacrifice, inspiration, discrimination and freedom.

This, too, makes sense to me.

To be American is to welcome dissent and argument based on enlightenment values, intellect and vision. To be driven by hated, bigotry, ignorance and prejudice is not only un-American but is treasonous to the values that have formed this great country.

To be American is to take the time to search for truth. To be American is to take the trouble to find out that President Obama has not skipped his security briefings, has not eliminated work from welfare. To be American is to acknowledge that Obama is an American citizen, Christian, husband, father, educated in the fine traditions of this nation — even if you don’t agree with him.

To be American is to understand Hillel the Elder when he commanded that we stand and be counted: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

This, too, makes sense to me.

This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.