A heartbreaking story

by Michael O. Allen on June 30, 2008

It would be easy to read this story and point to the sheer stupidity of the people profiled.

Against all apparent evidence, these people chose to believe demonstrably false rumors about presidential candidate Barack Obama.

In fact, when offered evidence to refute the rumors, they cling (yeah, cling) to the false narratives.

On his corner of College Street, Jim Peterman stares at the four American flags planted in his front lawn and rubs his forehead. Peterman, 74, is a retired worker at Cooper Tire, a father of two, an Air Force veteran and a self-described patriot. He took one trip to Washington in 1989 — best vacation of his life — and bought a statue of the Washington Monument that he still displays in a glass case in his living room.

He believes a smart vote is an American’s greatest responsibility. Which is why his confusion about Barack Obama continues to eat at him.

On the television in his living room, Peterman has watched enough news and campaign advertisements to hear the truth: Sen. Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, is a Christian family man with a track record of public service. But on the Internet, in his grocery store, at his neighbor’s house, at his son’s auto shop, Peterman has also absorbed another version of the Democratic candidate’s background, one that is entirely false: Barack Obama, born in Africa, is a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

“It’s like you’re hearing about two different men with nothing in common,” Peterman said. “It makes it impossible to figure out what’s true, or what you can believe.”

The writer of this Washington Post piece then takes a survey of a street, named College Street, no less, of what would have to be the most stupid collection of neighbors ever assembled in one place. The only problem: They are more typical than they are the exception.

We, Americans, are, indeed, that stupid.

Take dumb-asses like Pollard in the Post story:

“I think Obama would be a disaster, and there’s a lot of reasons,” said Pollard, explaining the rumors he had heard about the candidate from friends he goes camping with. “I understand he’s from Africa, and that the first thing he’s going to do if he gets into office is bring his family over here, illegally. He’s got that racist [pastor] who practically raised him, and then there’s the Muslim thing. He’s just not presidential material, if you ask me.”

Pollard believes Obama is a Muslim and that he has a racist pastor who “practically raised him.” Obama is either a Christian raised by a “racist pastor,” or a Muslim. He cannot possibly be both. But that does not deter this idiot.

I won’t repeat any more their inanities about Obama being Muslim or gay, or his being from Africa, as if any of those things would be wrong (except to point out you still have to be born on American soil in order to run for the presidency).

This story makes me sad. And angry.

Jeanette Collins, a 77-year-old, uttered perhaps the truest words in the piece: “All I know for sure about Obama is that we’re not ready for him.”

Only the aforementioned Peterman remains open-minded on College St., and he’s swaying to the beat of the rumors.

“I don’t know. The whole thing just scares me,” Peterman said. “I’m almost starting to feel like the best choice is not voting at all.”

The rumors have so far defied both the Truth Squad that the Obama campaign has sent out and the efforts of enlightened people who have offered their neighbors actual facts, instead of rumors.

Gerri Kish, a 66-year-old born in Hawaii, read both of Obama’s autobiographies. She has close friends, she said, who still refuse to believe her when she swears Obama is Christian. Then she hands them the books, and they refuse to read them. “They just want to believe what they believe,” she said. “Nothing gets through to them.”

The new advertisement running in Findlay, in which Obama is pictured with his white mother and white grandparents as he talks about developing a “deep and abiding faith in the country I love” while growing up in the Kansas heartland, is dismissed by residents of College Street as the desperate lies of another dishonest Washington politician.

For the past month, two students from the University of Findlay have spent their Tuesday nights walking from door to door in the city to tell voters about Obama. Erik Cramer and Sarah Everly target Democrats and swing voters exclusively, but they’ve still experienced mixed results. Sometimes, at a front door, they mention their purpose only to have a dozen rumors thrown back at them and the door slammed. “People tell us that we’re in the wrong town,” Everly said.

Soon, on a Tuesday night, they’ll walk down College Street — past the American flags, past the LeMasters, past the Pollards — and knock on Jim Peterman’s front door. They will ask for two minutes of his time, and Peterman will give it to them. He will listen to their story, weighing facts against fiction. For a few minutes, he might even believe them.

Then he’ll close his door and go inside, back to his life. Back to his grocery store, back to his son’s auto shop, back to the gossip on College Street. Back to the rumors again.

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