Saturday, April 23, 2011

Origins of the Birther Nonsense

Politico does a great job this week of walking readers through the beginnings of the birther movement. For those of you who do not know what the birther movement is, they are the nutjobs and conspiracy theorists who are convinced that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States (Hawaii to be specific) and is therefore ineligible, based on the Constitution's qualification requirements, to serve as president. This is a topic of never-ending frustration for me and I have written about it a couple times before (here and here).

Politico shows that the birther movement actually began when Obama first ran for a a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois: "The original smear against Obama was that he was a crypto-Muslim, floated in 2004 by perennial Illinois political candidate and serial litigant Andy Martin. Other related versions of this theory alleged that Obama was educated in an Indonesian “madrassa” or steeped in Islamist ideology from a young age, and the theories began to spread virally after Obama appeared on the national stage – to the casual observer, from nowhere – with his early 2007 presidential campaign announcement."

The rumors were taken to a new level by supporters of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries: "As Obama marched toward the presidency, a new suggestion emerged: That he was not eligible to serve. That theory first emerged in the spring of 2008, as Clinton supporters circulated an anonymous email questioning Obama’s citizenship."

From there the lunacy has evolved and continues to thrive as GOP presidential and congressional candidates and elected office holders alike either subscribe to the birther conspiracy theory or do nothing to discount it. The disturbing part of the birther craziness is not that some fringe conspiracy theorists believe it's true. From the 9/11 Truthers to the fake moon landing adherents, there will always be a lunatic fringe who believe such conspiracy theories. However, when you have people running for president who start banging the drum, using conspiracy theories to rally the faithful, there's a problem. Donald Trump seems to be banking much of his early unofficial campaign on this madness. And when 45% of Republicans say they believe President Obama was not born in the United States and another 22% of Republicans aren't sure where he was born, that is downright scary.

So why does this notion of Obama's birth trouble so many Americans? Frankly, I think when you boil all this down to its core, it comes down to race. President Obama doesn't look like the 42 presidents who preceded him. He is a man of color. Even in the 21st Century, there are many white Americans who have a huge problem with that. And to them I say: too bad. Get over it. Disagree with his policies. Vote against him in 2012 if you so decide. White males no longer hold a monopoly on the White House so deal with it. Our first Hawaiian president is also our first president of color. In the future, this will be more and more commonplace. And what menagerie of conspiracy theories will be created then?

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