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Racism Is the Prime Cause for Debunked Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy Theory

The "birther" conspiracy has been utterly debunked, yet more GOP establishment figures have embraced the transparently racist cause.

By now, everyone has heard of the "birthers," that rabid crop of self-appointed patriots who insist that Barack Hussein Obama is not a legitimate president because he is not really an American citizen.

What was once a nasty little rumor in the early days of the presidential race has since evolved into a full-blown conspiracy theory whose proponents, though "viewed as irrelevant by the White House, and as embarrassing by much of the Republican Party," in the words of Politico's Ben Smith, nonetheless enjoy increasingly high-profile political support, and media coverage "9/11 truthers" could only dream of.

The birthers' conspiracy theory -- which holds that Obama was born in Kenya, despite all evidence to the contrary -- has long been debunked. The Obama camp released a copy of his birth certificate as early as June 2008, although that only seemed to fan the flames.

Yet, last week the "birthers" became big news again, after a video emerged showing Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., confronted at a town hall meeting by a woman who angrily accused him of being complicit in the coverup of Obama's true origins. Castle, who is commonly labeled a "moderate Republican" -- and whose subsequent remark would earn him the label "RINO American Traitor" in some corners of the Internet -- seemed genuinely perplexed.

"Well I don't know what comment that invites," he said, to a chorus of boos. "If you're referring to the president, then he is a citizen of the United States."

The video of Castle's unfortunate run-in with the birthers hit YouTube and went viral. MSNBC put the clip on heavy rotation; "Hardball" host Chris Matthews devoted multiple segments to the topic; On CNN and on his radio show, sneering nativist Lou Dobbs fanned the flames with such remarks as, "What is the deal here? I'm starting to think we have … a document issue," and on Larry King, Dick Cheney's increasingly vocal daughter, Liz, shared her highly unempirical view that "one of the reasons you see people so concerned about this" is that "people are uncomfortable with having for the first time ever … a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas."

By midweek, Jon Stewart had lampooned the birthers and their media allies on Comedy Central's Daily Show, a move that, given his recent distinction as the new "most trusted man in news," might have spelled the death of the birthers.

Of course, it hasn't.

This week alone, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., was quoted as saying they may "have a point," while the fourth-highest-ranking member of the House, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said she'd "like to see the documents."

Meanwhile, an attempt by Hawaii Democrat Rep. Neil Abercrombie to pass a resolution to commemorate his state's 50th anniversary (while also proclaiming the state as President Obama’s birthplace) was temporarily blocked by Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann on Monday, only to pass a few hours later.

By now it seems everyone has put in their two cents (and then some) about the birthers. But while most media coverage has treated them as incurable wackjobs pushing a conspiracy theory to be classified alongside the moon landing "hoax" (40 years old last week!) and the (considerably larger) group of Americans who believe 9/11 was an inside job, the "truth" of Obama's birth seems to fall into a slightly different category.

Like all conspiracy theories, it springs from the fertile soil of collective denial. Unlike all conspiracy theories, it thrives on a deep-rooted, racist belief: that a black man with a foreign name could never have won the presidency in the United States through anything other than trickery, deception or fraud.