The Clinton campaign flatly denies any hand in the Obama-is-a-Muslim smear campaign that has bubbled beneath the media surface, but it is more than willing to take advantage of it, says the lone Muslim member of congress.
Rep. Keith Ellison, in an interview with The Huffington Post, said the Clinton camp was "opportunistically trying to reap the benefit" of voter concerns about Obama's religious beliefs. Ellison, who is a declared supporter of Senator Barack Obama, faced fierce religious attacks in his election to congress two years ago.
"People are going to throw some stuff on the wall and see what sticks and at this point the Clinton camp is trying to do whatever it can to be successful," said the Minnesota Democrat. "And if that means benefiting from political bigotry, I don't think they will try to put a stop to it."
Ellison's comments came two days after the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes ran a segment last Sunday in which a male voter explained how he was influenced by the fallacious Muslim smear campaign against Obama. Later in the show, Clinton was asked if she believed the rumors.
"Of course not," said the New York Democrat. "I mean, that's -- you know, there is no basis for that. You know, I take him on the basis of what he says. And, you know, there isn't any reason to doubt that."
Asked by correspondent Steve Kroft whether she was taking Obama at his word or personally believed he was not a Muslim, Clinton expanded on her answer: "No. No. Why would I? ... There is nothing to base that on, as far as I know."
For Ellison, the qualifiers in both Clinton statements demonstrated at least a partial attempt to further seed voter doubts. While he rejected the idea that Clinton campaign was behind the smear, he wasn't expecting the Clinton camp to thoroughly denounce it either.
"I think that Barack Obama' s Democratic opponents will say and do anything to try and win," he said. "I don't think there's much doubt of that. And so, I think that pretty much would explain [Clinton's] comments."
Ellison's words constitute some of the most critical reflections on the much-noted 60 Minutes segment. Others have suggested that Clinton's answer, while curiously qualified, was still a repudiation of the Obama-is-a-Muslim attacks. Clinton's supporters and her own campaign have said there was no equivocation in her response to the questions.
"This campaign is focused on the important substantive issues facing our country, and this is a baseless and offensive assertion," Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said. "Senator Clinton has been the victim of smears and scurrilous attacks, she knows how deeply troubling they are and she does not tolerate this kind of behavior."
The issue of Obama's religious origins has not been strictly the purview of the Democratic primary. Rep. Ellison also noted how the GOP has sought to demonize and paint Obama as a Muslim. He offered praise - albeit scant - to Sen. John McCain for distancing himself from comments made by a surrogate, in which Obama's middle name, "Hussein" was scornfully and frequently repeated. But he also warned of using religion as a political wedge issue, arguing that it was a practical assault on one of the pillars of the U.S. constitution.
"The people who would be offended by [Muslim smear campaigns], are people who have embraced American pluralism as a value and therefore would be open to Obama," Ellison said. "I think pluralism is under attack in America. I think it is under attack all over the world... But I think pluralism is going to win out because that represents the best instinct and the best values of people."