Shouting Into Darkness

The Birther Phenomenon

Posted in Kooky Observations, Political by Chris W. on April 29, 2011

I try not to get too political on people these days, because I’m of the mindset that my opinions on politics, religion and other lofty topics are interesting only to me. Doesn’t help that I also clash with the usual “left vs. right” dichotomy, but really, I think that people who come here want to be entertained. I do that to the best of my abilities, but every now and then, I have a few thoughts on a subject beyond video games and defunct comic books that I think needs to be recorded. This is one of those times.

A few days ago, President Barack Obama released a PDF file of his birth certificate to the media, along with a much-needed plea that the nation simply drop the subject and get on with more important matters. This was in response to a nagging question that never went answered (primarily because most of the world thought it was a dumb question to begin with) regarding the President’s status as a US citizen. Believe it or not, there is a segment of the American population that thinks the entire country has been bamboozled, that the current president was ineligible to be a candidate due to the fact that he was not born in the US. I know a lot of wacked-out conspiracy nutjobs in my personal life, and even they thought that these people needed to get in touch with reality.

The “Birther” movement, as it became known as, reached critical mass when real-estate mogul and reality show personality Donald Trump publicly stated his distrust of the President’s citizenship. You’d never think Donald Trump to be the one to lend credibility to an argument, but there it was. If one of the richest and well-known men in America joins your movement, you’ve just gotten called up to the Major Leagues.

So, the President – begrudgingly, might I add – showed his birth certificate and tried to put the matter to bed. Trump suffered a backlash of mocking in the media and online. (Honestly, if I have to see one more person post “Trump demands to know what country Latifah is the Queen of” and slap their knee, I may have to quit the Internet.) But of course, it still festers on. Some people still aren’t buying Obama’s birth certificate, and it just makes your head hurt. Why, after all this time, is this still a fucking issue?

To most people, it’s not, and that’s the good news. The majority of the country considers Obama just like they would any other president: a man with policies you either agree or disagree with. Even Obama’s staunchest political rivals have to distance themselves from the “Birthers”. Hey, maybe we’ve finally found some common ground to work from! Perhaps the healing can begin…

But to the people who still buy into this conspiracy theory, there are several explanations why. Most of the people I follow on Twitter (read: entertainers and other creative people) try to tie the Birther movement to deep-seated ignorance, gullibility, or even racism. I’m sure there are some who’s distrust in this President’s eligibility is based around one or more of those three things, but for the rest of the Birther movement, I think it goes beyond simple, quantifiable motives.

To me, the Birther movement is no different from the “NASA Faked the Moon Landing” or the “9/11 Truther” conspiracies. They are all conspiracy theories, born out of paranoia and reinforced by how “juicy” the story is. Think of the Obama story as it is now: Man born in Hawaii to poor parents rises up through the ranks of politics, gaining the trust of his fellow man before being bestowed the office of President. Not a bad story, but it’s even better if re-written to read: Man backed by either personal motivation or possibly foreign political influence infiltrates the office of President to pull a giant hoax on the Nation and the World. One of those stories is a feel-good; the other is a summer blockbuster.

I also place some of the blame for this whole Birther phenomenon at the feet of the Watergate scandal. I wasn’t around during Watergate, but I recently got through reading “All the President’s Men,” which is a fascinating account of how the President of the United States could be aware of wrongdoing in his name and try to use campaign funds to cover it all up. Prior to Watergate, it would be inconceivable that someone who possessed the moral core to become President would also be capable of something so underhanded. After Watergate, all bets were off. It was shown that the President could not only be a crook, but he could lie to the entire nation about it and stand a very good chance of getting away with it just because “He’s the President.” The Clinton scandal reinforced this for my generation. The President of the United States could – and did – screw around on his wife while in office and commit perjury to try and cover it up.

If you follow that line of thinking, it’s easy to see how someone with ambitions of being President could be not always forthcoming with the truth.

But what the Watergate and Lewinsky scandals had that the Birther movement doesn’t have is solid evidence to back up the claim. If the Nixon tapes never came to light, Watergate may have ended with H.R. Haldemann and never touched Nixon himself. Without Clinton’s DNA that he lovingly deposited all over the place, his extramarital affair would’ve been a private matter between him and his wife. The Birther Movement have their birth certificate. Unless there’s real evidence to discredit this document, the case is closed in the minds of the greater public. But, as with any conspiracy, you can bet that there will be a steady supply of people ready to buy into it.

So why, in light of near damning evidence to the contrary, do people still believe this hokum? Because they’re delusional, that’s why. The textbook definition of a “delusion” is a belief held in the absence of or in spite of evidence to the contrary. To the delusional person, and this fits for almost all conspiracy theorists, the pre-conceived idea is more important than the truth. Perhaps a big chunk of the individual’s identity rides upon that notion (as is the case with the ultra-religious), perhaps the individual wants to feel a part of the collective, or perhaps he or she just wants to think “alternatively.” There is no penalty for thinking outside the box in this world, but there is a penalty for thinking outside the plane of reality the box exists on.

In conclusion, the Birthers that stick with it after being shown Obama’s birth certificate will probably never let up until Obama is no longer in office and the point becomes moot. But if there are some out there that still are interested in the truth and evidence, the smoking gun (to pull another term from Watergate) is the President’s birth certificate, and you now have it. If you have any better information, we’d all like to hear it, but if not, let’s please drop this silly conspiracy and get down to the real issues at hand. And just so this doesn’t sound like a left-wing attack of the right-wing, I will point out that I’m not a Democrat by any stretch of the imagination, but I won’t do my credibility any good by joining up with the lunatic fringe. There is enough to criticize the President about other than the circumstances of his birth.

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