One of the most striking parts of Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama was his accusation that Republicans have helped spread the rumor that Obama is Muslim, and turned the word into a smear. "I have heard senior members of my own Party drop the suggestion he's Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists," he said.
Some Republicans took umbrage at the comment, saying McCain and Republicans haven't directly made such an accusation. Jonah Goldberg of The National Review wrote that it was a "low and dishonest blow," and asked, "is there really much evidence that the GOP or the McCain campaign have had anything to do with the stories that Obama is a Muslim?"
It's an important question, worth a detailed look.
First, Powell himself noted that McCain himself has never intimated that Obama is Muslim. And he's right about that. Neither McCain nor Palin have suggested such a thing, or even referred to their opponent as Barack Hussein Obama. At one point, the campaign fired a volunteer who had told voters that Obama is Muslim. A recent video showed rank-and-file McCain supporters chastising an anti-Muslim McCainiac.
Hillary Clinton arguably stoked the rumor more directly than McCain when she said during the primary that he wasn't Muslim "as far as I know."
What about the Republican Party? There's no evidence that the national Republican Party has driven, coordinate or even overtly encouraged the Obama-is-a-Muslim line.
Yet the idea has been widely embraced, and not just by a few conservative extremists. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 16% of McCain supporters believe Obama is Muslim - and only 47% of Republicans say he's Christian (the balance is unsure).
There are some instances of Republican Party officials stoking the idea:
* The Tennessee Republican Party issued a press release about "Barack Hussein Obama" that included a picture of Obama in "Muslim garb."
* The website of the Clark County, Republican Party in Washington state declared, "Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background. It is reported that Obama swore his oath of office using the Koran....This is chilling information about a candidate for the highest office in the Country especially given the radical Muslim claims that they will destroy American from "the inside."
* The website of the National Black Republican Association featured an article analyzing "Obama's Muslim Connections," which declared, "It's important to scrutinize Obama's Muslim background to determine if his Islamic past influences his decisions and actions toward America, including his decision to select an anti-American pastor as his spiritual advisor."
* Marcia Stirman, chairman of Otero County Republican Women in New Mexico declared in a letter to the local newspaper that Obama is "He's a Muslim socialist."
Most important, the idea has been spread by mainstream conservative media - not just a few lonely conservative bloggers in their basement but major conservative publications or figures with large followings:
* A popular conservative website, Newsmax.com, ran a story this week called, "Was Obama a Muslim?" and another one, "Obama 'Lying' About Muslim Past, Expert Says." (MORE)