A wise political friend once told me that a real test of leadership comes when you have to upset your friends more than your enemies in telling the truth.
Those weren’t his exact, more colorful words, but his point was on target. Congressman and House Speaker John Boehner recently flunked such a test and showed why some suspect he’s not fit to face the tough decisions his job demands.
On February 13, Mr. Boehner appeared on NBC’s venerable Meet the Press Sunday show whose host now is David Gregory. Mr. Gregory asked his guest about the false notions among many Republicans that President Obama was not born in America and that he is a Muslim.
As a leader, asked Mr. Gregory, didn’t Mr. Boehner have a “responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?”
Mr. Boehner shamelessly replied, “David, it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.”
Mr. Boehner denied three times his chance to set the record straight. He whined, “It’s really not our job to tell the American people what to believe or what to think. There’s a lot of information out there, people read a lot of things.”
Yes, there are a lot of things out there and the accusations that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States and that he is a Muslim are both false.
Some Republicans have had enough of such nonsense and have spoken out. What is incomprehensible is why intelligent and decent men such as Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and North Carolina’s Richard Burr don’t denounce such false witness.
The ignorance is not diminishing. Last summer, 41 percent of Republicans believed Mr. Obama was not born in America. A February 2011 survey by Democratic leaning Public Policy Polling showed the number is now 51 percent.
Mr. Boehner could have said that Hawaii has a valid birth certificate and there is other, uncontested evidence that Mr. Obama was born American. Mr. Boehner could also have said that Mr. Obama is a professed Christian, has attended Christian churches for years, and there is no credible evidence he was ever a Muslim.