27 April 2011

The Death of Birtherism? Don't bet on it.

In an extraordinary capitulation to mass unreason, the President of the United States has released his "long-form birth certificate" in a final effort to convince millions of Americans that he was born in this country and is not President by fraud. In his statement for the occasion, Obama expressed his hope that the birth-certificate question would no longer be a distraction liable to exploitation by political carny barkers. If he knows his history, however, he should realize that, at best, he can minimize but not eliminate the issue. As "truthers" continue to prove, the credulous minds of conspiracy theorists, especially those who fancy themselves skeptics, are quite capable in this postmodern age of dismissing any inconvenient evidence as a fabrication of reality. Just as the trash of Islam said in September 2001 that Hollywood special effects could fabricate any alleged footage of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., so the trash of the U.S. will still insist that the long-form birth certificate is a counterfeit or has been tampered with. Paranoia assumes omnipotence on the part of its imagined oppressors, and since no birth certificate will convince current birthers that the President is not an oppressor, most will continue to imagine him perpetrating elaborate frauds, though their focus may turn to whether the 2008 election was stolen by ACORN or other conspirators.

Now that Obama has released the coveted document, people will ask why he didn't end the distraction long ago and make the long-form certificate public back in 2008 or earlier. Despite what Donald Trump thinks, I doubt today's release was motivated by any desire to deflate the movement for his presidential candidacy, since I assume that Democrats would love to run against a stereotypical blowhard plutocrat. It's more likely that Obama simply refused to indulge the birthers for the same reason that so many Americans despise that faction. Whether our opinion was reasonable or fair or not, we have felt that birthers had no moral right to demand proofs of citizenship from Barack Obama. I've put in writing my suspicion that all birthers are racist -- or in the case of a handful of black birthers, paranoiac xenophobes. Their sense that Obama was essentially "alien" encouraged them to extrapolate from the years of his childhood spent abroad that he might have been born abroad; while ostensibly demanding proof of his legitimacy, they were most likely hoping all along for a smoking gun that would prove his illegitimacy. In their hearts they remain unconvinced; for many, Obama remains illegitimate or un-American because of his alleged beliefs: his hatred of capitalism, according to Mr. Right, or his atavistic African hatred for the West, according to Dinesh D'Souza.

But whether we're right or not in our suspicions about birthers' motives, an objective analysis might suggest that these are all ad hominem arguments against their demand for proof. Does it follow from their obnoxious motives that they had no right to make their demand? To the extent that democracy depends upon accountability, how selective should we be toward claims of accountability to supposed unreason? For most of the decade, loyal Republicans probably felt the same way toward anyone who questioned the legitimacy of the 2000 or 2004 presidential elections that loyal Democrats and other enemies of Republicanism have felt toward birthers, while a bipartisan consensus feels the same way toward "9-11 truthers" today. No leader or party is immune from apparently irrational dissent, and no one has the power to silence it. The best we can hope for is to find some authority, official or not, of unquestioned reasonableness who might be able to explain convincingly why some charges are not worth our attention. The worst-case scenario would be if Americans are no longer capable of that kind of objectivity. In that case, our 21st century Diogenes might have a long journey in store for him.


Anonymous said...

Already there is at least one video on YouTube with a birther claiming that the birth certificate Obama has produced is a forgery.

hobbyfan said...

The birthers need to get their heads out of the sand and accept reality. Their little campaign is over. Done. Finito. Trump joining their ranks amounts to jumping the shark, IMPO.