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Why We Can't Ignore the Birthers

The "birthers" might be crazy, but so was Whitewater, which ended with impeachment, and the Swift Boaters, who helped torpedo John Kerry.

When Barack Obama delivered the speech to the Democratic party convention in 2004 that launched his national career, he began by telling his own compelling personal story: "Let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya … While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas."

He went on to tell his parents' story as a quintessentially American tale of love, hope and aspiration. "My parents shared not only an improbable love," Obama told the rapt Democrats, "they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or 'blessed', believing that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success."

But as Obama prepares to celebrate his birthday on Tuesday there are others who would suggest that his appearance that night was not just probable but plotted -- part of a long-running conspiracy by foreign Muslim forces to take over the United States. In the alternative version, his white grandparents were so displeased at the race of his mother's fiance that his mother fled to Kenya. Once there, she was repulsed by the manner in which Muslim men treated their wives, but was now too pregnant to fly home and so remained in Mombasa, where the heat brought on early labor. A local imam was kind enough to lead the festivities and called the boy Obama.

The details change, but the basic storyline remains the same. Obama should not be president because his occupancy of the White House contravenes article two, section one of the U.S. constitution, which stipulates that only a "natural-born citizen" is eligible for the presidency. He is not just un-American but non-American; a faux candidate foisted on America by way of Mombasa rather than Manchuria. Such are the claims of the American "birther" movement.

The aim here is not prove these people wrong. That has been achieved several times over. For them to be right, Obama would have had to persuade the state of Hawaii to collude in forging a birth certificate that has been verified by its Republican governor and director of health as well as the nonpartisan Moreover, his mother would have had to have the foresight to place birth announcements claiming he was born in the U.S. in both the Honolulu Advertiser and the Hawaii Star Bulletin, 48 years ago, in anticipation of a future presidential run – otherwise, why bother? When you think of the time and effort that must have gone into this cover-up, Obama's election must go down as the most elaborate affirmative-action sting in U.S. history.

Facts won't budge them. The smart ones insist they are just doing him a favor. "What I don't understand is why he hasn't produced [his birth certificate] to get this noise out of the way." Cutting "legitimate doubt" from whole cloth, they create accusations to which the only defence would be to disprove a negative. (How do we know Obama was not enrolled into a school in Indonesia as Barry Soetoro?) Posing as reasonable people asking reasonable questions, many insist that their interest is not in stoking the controversy, but ending it. "I do believe the president is a citizen of the United States folks, don't you?" asks CNN's resident xenophobe, Lou Dobbs. "But I do have a couple of little questions, like you. Why not just provide a copy of the birth certificate?"