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July 28, 2009

Birthers: You People Are Nuts


The idea, completely false from the very start, that President Obama was not actually born in the United States and therefore, is ineligible to be president has been out there on the fringes since early in last year's campaign, but finally began to break through in the mainstream media last week.

Why? Part of it was the continuing stream of lawsuits, almost always immediately dismissed or otherwise ignored, by lawyers seeking to challenge the constitutionality of Obama's election. (I thought the right hated "frivolous lawsuits"?) Part of it is the rampantly dishonest flogging of the issue by top radio and television hosts who, while not embracing birtherism wholeheartedly, have at least kept the controversy alive by asking Obama release further documentation. (I never thought I'd say this, but I really thought Lou Dobbs knew better.)

But the biggest event that catapulted this "story" into the news was a town hall, quickly spread over YouTube, in which a woman berated Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) for ignoring the Obama birth certificate issue, flatly declaring, "He is not an American!" Castle, to his credit, told the audience that Obama is a citizen and was, of course, booed for his trouble.

The birther phenomenon is not exactly unique in the history of America, a nation that loves its conspiracy theories (I once even took a college course on the subject, taught by Jacob Cohen at Brandeis University.) But unlike some of the more outlandish theories about the JFK assassination, Bill Clinton murdering people, 9/11 as an inside job, etc., the birther idea has particularly caught fire, seemingly garnering more attention the more it's debunked.

Spread by a veritable all-star team of far-right nuts, the birther narrative is bad as politics, worse as history and perhaps the worst of all when it comes to honesty. At its heart an attempt to call Obama, a man with a uniquely American story, un-American, the entire thing has an ugly, racist tinge that is frankly disgusting. But even worse, it's utterly untruthful, a fact that should be stated at the outset every time this story is discussed in a news context.

To buy into the birther theory requires both massive amounts of bad faith and a complete and total willingness to disregard all physical and historical evidence. And hate. Lots and lots of hate.

Put simply, it's all been debunked, again and again and again. A birth certificate for the president exists, and Hawaii officials have authenticated it, many many times. Obama's birth announcement, from 1961, was published in multiple newspapers. Obama at this point could probably produce an actual videotape of his own birth, and the birthers still wouldn't believe it.

Journalist David Weigel of the Washington Independent, who has been all over this story since early in the campaign, said on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show last week that "I don't know what they want anymore, because every time Hawaii verifies something, or a reporter verifies something, or a witness verifies something that witness, that state, that reporter is lying, and their evidence must be thrown aside."

The idea, I guess, is that Obama had a secret plan to run for president, from a very young age, so decided to lie, and make everyone who knows him lie, over a period of several decades. This conspiracy that would require hundreds of people to lie, when they have no reason or motive for doing so, and for none of those hundreds of people to ever turn on him and reveal the truth.

(My other favorite theory is that the birth certificate was forged to hide the fact that Obama's middle name is not Hussein but rather "Muhammad." You'd think if he'd falsified it to de-Muslimify his name he'd have picked "George" or "John" or something.)

The birthers claim to have "questions"; I have a few of my own. One, why does the burden fall on Barack Obama to prove his birth certificate has not been forged, when that standard doesn't appear to apply to any other politician, or indeed any public figure at all, anywhere else in the world? And two, if the birthers have "questions" about where Obama was really born, tenuous as they may be, how do they then leap to the conclusion that he must have been born in Kenya? Where's the evidence of that?

No, the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans are not birthers. But I do see the birther phenomenon as part of a larger effort from the right to pretend Obama is something he's not that is, to battle with a fantasy version of Obama that has little in common with the actual president. Every time he's called a communist, a terrorist sympathizer, an America-hater, or a Muslim, this is what's happening. The birthers are only taking this to its logical extreme.

Like evolution, or the existence of the Holocaust, whether or not the president of the United States is really an American citizen isn't something that's a matter of opinion or debate. Obama's American citizenship is a demonstrable fact that's been shown to be true again and again and again. The people who deny it are nutters, liars, racists and worse. Everyone associated with this should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.


2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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