It is sometimes easy when you live in the virtual world of the internet to look at people like the Birthers or Truthers and dismiss them out of hand as a small minority of lunatics who are best left alone to wallow in their paranoid kookiness.
Such might be good advice for dealing with those who believe we never landed on the moon, or who think that we have dead aliens on ice at Area 51. But, as I warned my fellow conservatives in this post about the Founding Freeper’s call for “revolution” and removal of all elected representatives from the president on down, we ignore some of these groups, including the Birthers, at the peril of having conservatism severely damaged by having their ideas associated with the mainstream right.
Yes, there numbers may be small relative to the whole. But they are actively committed to spreading their lunacy far and wide and are gaining converts and cash as I write this.
The question then becomes do we try and isolate, chastise, and ultimately drive out the paranoid purveyors of utterly fantastical notions of Obama’s origins while they are still a small enough group that a concerted effort could succeed? Or do we wait and see how big they get before acting, thus risking a backlash against the right from the voter?
To prevent many diseases from harming our health, we inoculate ourselves so that an illness will not develop. I propose something similar in dealing with the Birthers. For my part, anyone who leaves a comment on this site, on any post, that advances any birther “theory” will be banned from accessing my writings.
Some might think this a bad idea in that I will forgo “debate” or perhaps not allow a Birther to be convinced otherwise. That’s nonsense. My experience with Birthers has been that they don’t want to hear any contrary evidence, that they have closed their mind so completely to the truth that arguing with a brick wall would be easy by comparison.
Besides, for most Birthers, it’s not about discovering the truth. It is about delegitimizing the president. For months they demanded to see the president’s birth certificate. When the state of Hawaii released a “Certificate of Live Birth,” we heard from the Birthers that it wasn’t good enough, or it was a fake. “All we want is to see the president’s birth certificate,” they innocently ask. And they take the president’s reluctance to do so - indeed, his fight in the courts to prevent the release of it - as “evidence” that there is something amiss.
I don’t blame Obama for fighting it. It is an insult to the presidency, to begin with. And the fact that no other president or presidential candidate in history has been asked to “prove” they are citizens is a personal insult to Obama.
I have little doubt that racism plays a role in this for some, but for most, it is a continuation of a streak of radical paranoia that has afflicted a subset of modern conservatism in the post-World War II era. The anti-Masons, the bugaboos associated with the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, Breton Woods, the Jews, the Catholics — it is a long, inglorious list of people and organizations around which has grown paranoid conspiracies of the most outrageous sort.
I’ve quoted Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” several times on this site. The opening paragraph of that essay applies to our current situation:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.
Hofstadter misread the Goldwater movement entirely, but so did most liberals at the time who failed to appreciate what energies had been released as a result of the Arizona senator’s candidacy. To ascribe Goldwater’s success to the paranoids was an extreme oversimplification but typical of the blindness demonstrated by the left to what was happening to conservatism below the surface. (I wonder what Hofstadter would have made of the unhinged, paranoid and radical nature of opposition to Bush by many lefty bloggers over the previous 8 years?)
The point is that Hofstadter’s description of the Birthers (and others who believe everything from Obama being a communist to his desire to “destroy” America) is spot on. “Heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” are the hallmarks of the Birthers, and even if Obama were to release his birth certificate, they would find it a fake or demand something equally idiotic as “proof” of his citizenship.
You cannot debate them without legitimizing their arguments. They are not rational so logic and reason have no effect on their thinking. Like the 9/11 Truthers who are a cross cultural, equal opportunity fraternity of both left and right nutcases, they must be denounced in as strong language that we can muster. They must be belittled, humiliated, laughed at, raged against, and verbally hammered unmercifully until they are beaten back into the shadows and dark places from which their fantasies emerged.
And now, Rush Limbaugh has joined the Birthers in asking to see the president’s “long form” birth certificate. The “news” site World News Daily - one of the biggest boosters of the Birther movement - reports on Limbaugh’s conversion:
On his show today, Limbaugh told listeners, “As you know, I’m in the midst of another harassing audit from New York State and New York City for the last three years. We’re up to 16 different ways I have to prove to New York City and state tax authorities where I have been every day – not just work week – but every day, for the past three years.”
He continued, “Barack Obama has yet to have to prove that he’s a citizen. All he has to do is show a birth certificate. He has yet to have to prove he’s a citizen. I have to show them 14 different ways where the h— I am every day of the year for three years.”
Do my fellow righties still think this is just a fringe group of paranoids? Whenever I criticize Limbaugh on this site, I get an army of conservatives telling me he is the heart and soul of the conservative movement. If so, what does that say to the rest of us who utterly reject the Birther nonsense? Are we out of step with the mainstream? Or has Limbaugh proved once again that he is a clown, an oaf, and a shallow panderer to the fears and anger of his listeners?
Mark Ambinder offers this in his post, “Should the GOP Take the Birther Threat Seriously?”
That’s the thesis of the First Readers of NBC News, after viewing this astonishing clip from a town hall meeting that Rep. Mike Castle held in Delaware for his constituents. What’s most notable, to me, at least, is not how scared Castle looked or how passionately the woman argued for Barack Obama’s foreign birth. It was the reaction of the audience, a good portion of which erupted into cheers and youbetchas.
To the extent that one can conclusively prove such things in our postmodern age, this claim has been extremely thoroughly debunked. The birther movement may be premised on a fictional belief, but it is savvy: birthers now wear the term “birther” as badge of honor, as if they were a persecuted minority — which, come to think of it, is one mechanism for solidarity in the face of evidence to the contrary.
This is, at once, a fringe movement and something greater. It’s fringe because no important Republicans believe it, and most are offended by it. It’s greater because some fairly prominent local lawmakers are beginning to sign birther petitions.
At least nine members of Congress have cosponsored a birther bill that would require prospective presidents to affirm their U.S. citizenship. What we don’t know is how widespread the belief is among Republicans — and even if the belief is confined to a narrow minority, whether the belief will spread as Republicans begin to pay closer attention to electoral politics in 2010 and 2012.
Now that Rush has picked up the Birther standard, expect other Pop-Cons like Hannity, Beck, Coulter, and more to start pushing it. If they do, they are playing with fire. Pandering to paranoids has the historically nasty habit of having their delusions stick to you like glue. Charles Lindbergh found that out to his detriment when he embraced the “America First Committee” before World War II. When the war broke out, he was ignored by Roosevelt and his fame took a permanent hit.
I am open to any and all ideas on how to marginalize these kooks before conservatism itself becomes a victim of the Birthers unbalanced lunacy. We can no longer turn the other way when confronted with Birther blather. Since they won’t listen to reason , shame and humiliation would seem to me to be the best way to closet them with the other nutcases of American politics.
I was right to compare Birtherism with a disease. It seems to be spreading.
First Limbaugh, now Liz Cheney who refused to denounce the Birthers on Larry King:
After King showed video of the crazy birther who disrupted a meeting with poor GOP Rep. Mike Castle, demanding he acknowledge Obama was born in Kenya (that’s one birther claim); and after Carville denounced them as a “poor, pathetic” fringe group, King gave Cheney a chance to distance herself from them. But Cheney demurred, telling King the Birther movement exists because “People are uncomfortable with a president who is reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”
The rarely shocked Carville seemed briefly speechless, and even King, not known to be the most combative interviewer, tried a second time to get an honest reaction from Cheney — which I read as expecting her to separate herself from the crazies. But Cheney repeated her talking point about Obama inadequately defending the nation overseas. Unbelievable. Carville called her on it, accurately: “She refuses to say, ‘This is ludicrous,’ because she actually wants to encourage these people to believe this.”