Frist Addresses Tennessee's Birther Problem
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist attempted to skirt a question on Thursday as to why nearly half the Republicans in his home state of Tennessee believed that President Barack Obama was born in another country. But in an admission that the birthers are becoming problematic for the GOP, the senator stressed that there was a need to reach out and educate those individuals, so as to rebuild the party's brand on modern ideas as opposed to conspiracy theories.
Speaking at a conference in Washington D.C., the Huffington Post asked the former Senator about a recent survey which showed 47 percent of Tennessee Republicans and 34 percent of the entire state thought Obama was constitutionally ineligible to hold office.
Frist replied that there was a need to have "good people [in Washington] get facts out, explain to people, communicate with people, get rid of... a certain arrogance, and listen to real people on the ground."
"When a patient comes in I don't care where they are from or how much money they have. I spend the time and communicate," Frist, a doctor, concluded. "I listen to them and get a more educated populace out there."
After the event concluded, he told the Huffington Post that there was an onus on elected Republican leaders in Washington to reach out and calm some of the more extreme elements of the party.
Frist's comments are another small reflection of a growing recognition among senior voices in the GOP that the inflammatory rhetoric and conspiracy theories directed at the Obama White House are likely not constructive. Earlier in the month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the birthers "crazy" and told them to "knock [the] crap off." This past week, the South Carolina Republican was shouted down by town hall protesters for his position on climate change legislation.
"We're not going to be the party of angry white guys," Graham responded. "If you don't like it, you can leave."
While Frist may see similar demographic problems ahead for the GOP, he pledged on Thursday that he would not be returning to elected office to help the party right the ship.
"I'm not running for governor, vice president, president, any of the cabinet positions. I'll just get that out of the way," he said, at the onset of the conference.