"I'm tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president's done," Rubio said. "Always pitting people against each other. Always." "Look at today -- he gave a speech at a mosque," Rubio continued. "Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there's going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam... [I]t's this constant pitting people against each other -- that I can't stand that. It's hurting our country badly."
"[I]f we're serious about freedom of religion -- and I'm speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country -- we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," the president explained. "And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion."
It was a message of inclusion and respect, a defense of religious liberty, and an explicit reminder to Muslim Americans that they are part of the fabric of the nation. "If you're ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here," Obama said. "You're right where you belong. You're part of America, too. You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American."
Watching this, I was struck by a few things. The first was how genuinely heartening it was to see a sitting president reach out to a minority community with warmth and gratitude. The second was that Obama was doing exactly the opposite of what terrorist groups like ISIS want -- since their entire message is built on the lie that the West will never accept Muslims as friends and neighbors.
And third, I found myself thinking, "Even the most unhinged, right-wing Republican is going to have a hard time disagreeing with the president's efforts to bring people together." Apparently, I underestimated what Marco Rubio is capable of. The Washington Post reported on the senator's response to the Obama's remarks.
Remember, we've been told repeatedly that he's the smart one in the GOP field.
On the surface, it's stunning that Rubio could believe remarks explicitly crafted to bring people together was actually a speech that deliberately tried to pit Americans against each other. It's as if the Florida senator has the listening comprehension skills of a third grader.
But it's also disappointing. Rubio is supposed to be better than this. There's probably nothing the Senate Republican can do to shake pundits' affection for him, but his comments yesterday should lead to some reflection on the part of his media cheerleaders: Is Rubio really the amazing new leader you think he is?
The Boston Globe's Michael Cohen noted in response to Rubio's condemnation of Obama's remarks, "Honestly, in a political world that was borderline sane, this comment would be disqualifying." New York's Jon Chait added, "Obama and Rubio follow very different theories of the proper treatment of social minorities. One of those men is president of the United States, and the other has no business holding that position."