Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"We're all birthers now": The Capricorn One faction of the GOP

While chatting with a Republican friend yesterday, I asked him jokingly if he was a birther now.

I was thinking of Dwight MacDonald's well-known quote from the 50s, often repeated: "We're all anti-communists now," which was a reaction to Stalin. It meant that one could readily admit the obvious truth, regardless of how zealously socialist one had been in one's youth (as Macdonald, former Trotskyist, had been).

My usually-reasonable friend shocked me, "I wish he [Obama] would just answer questions," he answered.

Oh dear God.

Answer questions about WHAT? My temper flared unexpectedly; I could hardly believe my well-mannered friend had been hanging out in the Area 51 of American talk-radio politics. What the hell is going on? ...John McCain, I sputtered, was born in PANAMA and nobody even mentioned it!

"John McCain isn't president now, or maybe they would," he replied, evenly.

Does anyone believe that?

Has any other president been expected to answer questions about whether they were born in the USA?

What are we going to do with these people?

The only thing that will totally satisfy them would be a Polaroid snapshot of a Hawaiian pediatric nurse holding up a baby Barack in a neonatal unit, under a sign that says "Welcome to Honolulu!" and a 1961 wall calendar.

Even then, I can imagine the birthers enlarging the Polaroid and deciding with various computer-aging technology: it isn't really him. Wrong biracial Hawaiian-born baby boy! (Lou Dobbs pointedly asks: Who is it really?)

The New York Times calls them fringe, but having once been on the (lefty) fringe, I know how fringe works. You just keep repeating the fringe-wisdom, until the people closer to the center pick up on it. Finally, the center-left or center-right latches on to it, and what is fringe is suddenly conventional wisdom and is treated seriously on "60 Minutes."

Or in the New York Times.

Well, maybe that's good, you say. A thorough investigation could put the matter to rest.

HA HA HA - are you kidding? Have you never seen Capricorn One? Do you know who the Sedevacantists are? Does anyone really believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone?

We are talking about FAITH, people, not facts. Faith transcends facts. Faith is about the need to believe.

From Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times (which is undoubtedly part of the liberal conspiracy):

There are no living family members to testify to the events of Aug. 4, 1961, at the Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu. The president’s parents are both deceased, as are his grandparents, who played a significant role in raising him.

But Mr. Abercrombie, who has represented Hawaii for nearly two decades in Congress, was a close friend of Mr. Obama’s parents, who were students at the University of Hawaii in 1961. The president’s father, Barack H. Obama Sr., was from Kenya, but Mr. Abercrombie said the suggestion that the Obama baby was born in Africa is an absurd impossibility.

“He was born in Kapiolani Hospital, right down the street from where I lived,” Mr. Abercrombie said. “They had no money. I can’t imagine how they would get to Kenya. It makes no sense at all. It’s an insult to his mother.”

Questions have been swirling around about Mr. Obama’s biography — largely on the internet and on conservative radio and television broadcasts — since shortly after he announced his presidential bid in early 2007. They were researched by his Democratic and Republican opponents alike, all of whom determined there was no legitimacy to the speculation that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya.

To satisfy the doubters, the Obama campaign released a copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate during the presidential race. But the fact that it was a copy and not the original, which according to Hawaii law cannot be released publicly, did not quell the furor. So the director of the Department of Health in Hawaii, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, released a statement last fall, and again last month, attesting to the authenticity of the president’s birth.
And this hasn't mattered a whit to the birthers. They remain unconvinced. Of course they are. As I said, this is about FAITH.

Zeleny mentions the recent skirmishes on MSNBC, which have given the birthers a platform--ostensibly to make them look like conspiracy-theory-wackos. Unfortunately, any time you give fringe-folks a platform, you increase their respectability and influence.

The number of birthers increases every time they get press and media.

Orly Taitz, a California dentist and lawyer who is among the leading voices in the anti-Obama movement, made her case in a combative interview on MSNBC.

“Obama is completely illegitimate as a U.S. president for two reasons — not only because he did not provide the place of his birth, but also because both parents have to be U.S. citizens,” Ms. Taitz said. “His father was never a U.S. citizen. He was in the United States on a student visa.”

The White House, awash in several real political challenges, has largely ignored the noise. Last week, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was asked by a liberal talk radio host, Bill Press, whether there was anything the White House could do to satisfy the critics and make the issue go away.

“No, the God’s honest truth is no,” Mr. Gibbs said, calling it “made-up fictional nonsense.”

“If I had some DNA, it wouldn’t assuage those who don’t believe he was born here,” Mr. Gibbs said as anger welled in his voice. “The president was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the 50th state of the greatest country on the face of the earth.”
I suggest the Capricorn One strategy: reduce these people to buffoons and laugh-a-minute conspiracy-theorists. Giving them a "fair hearing" has been completely wrong. Can we start talking about how the moon landing was faked, too? (And how about the Holocaust?) Will people be allowed on mainstream cable TV news-shows to discuss those views? And why not? I've heard those theories my whole life, why can't they get some exposure to the masses?

Because they are CRACKPOT BULLSHIT, is why. Leave the search for Erich von Däniken's alien ancestors to the Scientologists and the goofier cable channels, okay? There is no reason to litter up REAL NEWS STATIONS with stories of why the moon landing was faked.

Please stop fueling this. Stop the insanity!

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mr President. Truly, you are Leo personified. Have a wonderful 48th year.


More on what I have decided to label the Capricorn One faction of the GOP:

Elected Birthers on the Hill (Huffington Post)

Anti-Obama 'birther' movement gathers steam (UK Guardian)

Obama Citizenship Poll: Things Get Weird In The GOP Base (The Atlantic)

How fact-free claims about Obama's citizenship gained mainstream currency (KansasCity.com)


PG said...

"My usually-reasonable friend shocked me, "I wish he [Obama] would just answer questions," he answered."

I've heard that as well from people who swear they are not birthers. Basically, they (Andrew McCarthy at Nat'l Review is a good illustration of this) see nothing wrong in people's questioning whether Obama was born in the U.S., despite the fact that no one has ever before demanded that a presidential candidate prove that he was born in the U.S. (There have been *legal* questions of Constitutional interpretation about what the phrase "natural born citizen" means with regard to people who were born outside the 50 United States + D.C., like John McCain or George Romney, but even Clinton, as hated as he was by the right, never had his "born in Hope" story challenged.)

Since they see nothing wrong in such questioning, they think that if Obama would just produce this or that additional bit of documentation, it would lay all this to rest.

There are saner Republicans, like James Taranto at the WSJ, who admit,

So why doesn’t Obama release the original certificate? The Advertiser says it is “unclear” whether the president “would even be allowed to see it if he asked.” It is clear, though, that the Hawaii statute governing disclosure of public records does not prohibit state officials from providing him with a copy, since he is “the registrant” and therefore has “a direct and tangible interest” in the record. One would think that Obama could persuade state officials to give him a copy, even if that is not their usual policy.

But the real question is: Why should he? The demand has no basis in principle and would have no practical benefit.

Obama has already provided a legal birth certificate demonstrating that he was born in Hawaii. No one has produced any serious evidence to the contrary. Absent such evidence, it is unreasonable to deny that Obama has met the burden of proof. We know that he was born in Honolulu as surely as we know that Bill Clinton was born in Hope, Ark., or George W. Bush in New Haven, Conn.

The release of the obsolete birth certificate would not “resolve the issue” to those for whom it is not already resolved. They claim without basis that today’s birth certificate is a fake; there is nothing to stop them from claiming without basis that yesterday’s is as well.

The president would gain nothing politically for his trouble. By acknowledging the birthers’ demands, he would lend them a modicum of credibility. By ignoring them, he actually reaps political benefits from their efforts. His critics, even those who are not birthers, end up looking like cranks by association. His supporters use the birthers to paint Obama foes as racist--which is probably unfair even to the birthers, as we argued Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

I recommend handing out Taranto's piece to all Republicans you encounter. He has credibility on the educated right, at least, although his editorial has earned him an attack from the loopier zones, like WorldNetDaily, which apparently considers where Taranto writes his columns -- "his comfortable perch on the south side of Manhattan" -- to be determinative of whether they should be taken seriously.

If you have Republican friends who believe the WSJ editorial page -- which alleged that the Clintons had a hand in murdering people, for heaven's sake! -- is part of a left-wing media conspiracy, you might wanna cut those folks loose before you find yourself talking to a reporter about "he was conservative, sure, but I never thought he'd shoot the president..."

Thene said...

It all sounds kinda like an admission of ultimate defeat to me. They've abandoned the idea that their platform is more popular or relevant than their opponent's, and are now desperately trying to get him disqualified on entirely imaginary technical grounds.

What I'm wondering is if this movement is going to further damage the Republicans and if so, how much. I hope that it backfires electorally in the same way that the attempted impeachment of Clinton backfired. Even so, I would much rather it wasn't there because it's so damn ugly.

Thene said...

I should add, this is my favourite Birther conspiracy, one that was floated right before the election; Obama Is Malcolm X's Secret Lovechild. And if that one's true there's no question about his eligibility for the presidency! :)

SnowdropExplodes said...

Is it wrong that I just think if a horrible pun when I read about these stories?

The pun being:

"How can they dis-birth the rumours?"


(diss Birther rumours)

I'll get me coat.

Meowser said...

Oh, for gods' sake. There was a freaking BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENT in the Honolulu paper in 1961. Are they trying to tell us someone put that in the paper's archives as a fake? Or that Obama's family took one look at his little baby mug and said, "We'd better put a birth announcement in the paper in Hawaii even though he wasn't born there, because we know he'll make a serious run for President of the United States one day!"

You are right, Daisy, there is no evidence that will shut them up. Not only are they accusing him of faking his birth certificate, they are accusing the entire state of Hawaii of being in on the fix. Can't someone sue them for slander?

white rabbit said...

I'm slack jawed with amazement at this!

Just how bonkers can the US right get???

The trouble with conspiracy theorists is that it is impossible to refute them. The more cogent the refutation and the more powerful the evidence in support of the refutation, the more fiendish and ingenious the conspiracy becomes.

Could it be that racists who are wholly incapable of accepting that a black President is even possible are - er - not under-represented among the birthers?

One question: if the US is a republic and therefore in principle all citizens are equal (or should be) why on earth have this unique inequality turning on accident of birth? Why not get rid of whatever bit of the US constitution it is that has caused this kerfuffle?

Problem solved.

mikeb302000 said...

I find it hard to believe these people are serious. I keep running into a similar thing on my blog with the pro-gun guys. They consider anyone who disagrees with them as the enemy and when dealing with the enemy, it's perfectly acceptable to lie or exaggerate or pretend not to understand. Then they repeat it so often that they themselves begin to believe it, meanwhile many of lower intelligence buy into it completely.

I think that's what happened with these "birther" nuts.

Rootietoot said...

I don't like Obama, I think the economic direction he's taking isn't feasible, but I have NO reason to believe he was born anywhere except Hawaii. I got into a...um..."discussion" with my parents about this (ok...think Really Really Conservative Conspiracy Theorist types) who were complaining about him taking a trip to Hawaii on taxpayer money. "Mom," I said, "he's FROM there." "No he's not." she replied, "He's from Kenya." "Would you rather he fly to Kenya on taxpayer money, or Hawaii?" I answered. Well. It's not good to argue with Mom because she makes you pay for it for the rest of the visit.

Like I said, I don't really like the man's policies, and I won't get into a "discussion" with you about that, but I think the whole "where's he from" thing is silly and pointless.

Word verification" yarki. My point exactly.

Vanessa said...

Makes me think of this study.

Basically, neither liberals nor conservatives are convinced that a political bit of misinformation is false given evidence to the contrary, but conservatives actually become MORE convinced their misinformation is true the more evidence to the contrary you give them. Because as you say, it's about faith and belief and not proof.

Kind of scary, but explains so much.

sheila said...

I love this post. :)
They're not birthers, they're 'sour-grapers.'

Oh, and I happen to believe the moon landing was faked, Oswald either didn't act alone or didn't do it at all...and, how weird, I was JUST watching a show about Erich von Däniken! I shit you not! I Was! lol. His theroys are really not so far fetched if you just listen to it. I don't believe anything he says has anything to do with what scientologists believe though. But his theroys are not only his. And they're totally feasible. :)

I've spent years and years studying ancients...they didn't all of a sudden out of the blue learn to read, write, become astronomers, navigators, catographers, etc, etc by themselves. They just didn't.

white rabbit said...

Okay but I return to the question I posed originally.

What does the consitutional restriction Obama is supposed to have fallen foul of add to anything and how is it compatible with the principle of equal citizenship?

Why not just get rid of it? That question seems to be the elephant in the room and no-one addresses it.

Dave Dubya said...

Did you hear the news? It turns out the Birthers themselves were, in fact, not born. They were all hatched at the Fox Zombie Factory.

The Birther Species is similar to humans but their hearing is limited to the frequencies of fellow Birthers. They literally cannot hear anything outside their cult. Nor can they see anything other than Fox on a TV screen, apart from a fuzzy picture of Lou Dobbs.

DO NOT TRY TO COMMUNICATE WITH THEM! They perceive any outside communication as a threat and will become hostile when spoken to.

DaisyDeadhead said...

And I'm not the only one who worries that giving the birthers an ongoing media forum is a bad idea:

'Birther' coverage hits fever pitch