With a growing portion of the populace convinced that President Obama is a Muslim, political observers and reporters have begun asking just how such information could be so widely disseminated. On Sunday, their ears perked a bit when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would only go so far as to take Obama "at this word" that he was a Christian.
"The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word. I don't think that's in dispute," McConnell told Meet the Press host David Gregory. "I think the faith that most Americans are questioning is the President's faith in the government to generate jobs. We've had an 18-month effort here on the part of this administration to prime the pump, borrow money, spend money, hire new federal government employees, sending money down to states so they don't have to layoff state employees. People are saying: Where are the jobs? The president's faith in the government to stimulate the economy is what people are questioning."
Politico's Mike Allen gave the exchange top treatment in his daily Playbook email, under the header "SIREN -- OR SHOULD WE SAY "DOG WHISTLE"? NBC's Chuck Todd, via Twitter, offered his own take, noting that it was an "Odd way to phrase it."
That's perhaps an understatement. McConnell may have been trying to avoid engagement in a debate defined both by confusion and, under the surface, a bit of Islamophobia. But by constructing his response in such a peculiar way -- suggesting that the debate over Obama's religion was legitimate and that the president was arguing one side of it -- he not only invited the type of skeptical coverage he received Sunday morning but will further spur claims that the GOP doesn't mind having this image of Obama spread.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then Sen. Hillary Clinton offered the same type of evasive response to the same type of Obama-is-a-Muslim rumors. For days, if not weeks, she was dogged with accusations that she wanted voters to be skeptical about Obama's faith.