30 May 2012
Is Birtherism a matter of opinion?
Pressured to repudiate Donald Trump's latest attempt to revive the question of the President's birthplace, Republican nominee-presumptive Romney reportedly told the news media that Trump is "entitled to his opinion." While those are a reporter's words, they presumably represent with some accuracy whatever Romney actually said. The candidate also resisted pressure to distance himself from Trump, telling reporters, this time in his own words, "I don't agree with all the people who support me. And my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more. And I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people." Trump implicitly makes the list of "good people," or of those "good" enough to get Romney to 50.1% As for Romney, this may be the most self-damning thing he's said to date on the campaign trail, worse than any of the gaffes that supposedly expose his insensitivity or rich-man's arrogance. What has he said, after all? He'll stoop to collaborating or currying favor with crypto-racist conspiracy mongers in order to get the barest majority of the popular vote. He anticipates the closest possible race and can't afford to repudiate anyone's support. He has to get every hater on his side in order to win. Sad but inevitable -- but let's challenge his initial point. Is Birtherism an "opinion?" My impression was that Birtherism is an assertion of fact, a claim that the President's Hawaiian birth certificate is a fraudulent document concealing Obama's ineligibility for the office he holds. That is no more an "opinion" than the assertion that 2+2 = 5. It's typically postmodern to deny any distinction between fact and opinion, since it's the belief of some postmodernists, usually people on the cultural "left," that "fact" is never anything more than opinion backed by power. Postmodernity empowers the paranoiac bad faith that's simultaneously the analogue and opposite of faith-based politics. For some people, "freedom" now extends to their right not to believe anything particular people, groups or institutions tell them -- or to look at it another way, their right to believe in vast conspiracies of lies motivated by evil intentions. For if this is a free country, don't we have the right to believe that our freedom is constantly threatened by all kinds of people and powers? Aren't we obliged to be jealous of our liberties, after all? Isn't that freedom of opinion? Apparently Mitt Romney thinks so.