Why We Can't Ignore the Birthers
Continued from previous page
When proof is provided, the inconvenient evidence is denied, parsed, undermined or overlooked. Hawaii has produced a certificate of live birth which it both issues and accepts as proof of citizenship. So the birthers demand his full certificate and claim that the document provided is a fraud. Meanwhile, in the absence of tangible proof, birthers are sustained by claims that are variably random, unsubstantiable, insubstantial, untraceable or incredible – and often all five. In November the grandson of the Kenyan imam who allegedly delivered Obama in Mombasa was reported to be on his way to England to claim asylum because he feared the Kenyan authorities would silence him. Which brings us on to the final, crucial part of the birther identity: victimhood. The leftwing media are hounding them and the government is marginalising them. If you can't say what happened to the grandson of that Kenyan imam you'd never heard of, then how do you know the authorities didn't finish him off? And so they turn banality into controversy, truth into speculation, certainty in doubt and the world on its head. Having made up the news, they demand to know why no one is reporting it.
So why dignify these people with column inches when you could just laugh and move on? If they truly are brain-dead, then surely the oxygen of publicity only keeps their contributions in their present vegetative state. There is something to that. But while to engage them is clearly futile, to dismiss them would be reckless, for two main reasons.
First, the birthers are anything but a fringe group. They have found a sizeable audience for their fantasy. A poll last week showed that more than half of Republicans either believe Obama was not born in the US (28%) or are not sure (30%). Mainstream anchors on CNN and Fox routinely give them credibility. So far, 11 Republican congressmen have signed a " birther bill" that would demand a birth certificate from all future presidents. They may have no more credibility than the 9/11 truthers or those who denied the moon landings, but they certainly have more reach.
Second, however marginal they appear now, they were effectively running the country between 2000 and 2008. It was their birther logic (an oxymoron if ever there was one) that provided the mindset, legwork and frontline troops for the Bush era. Iraq was invaded because it could not prove that it did not have something it truly did not have. "We would say, 'Iraq should present any anthrax'," explained UN weapons inspector Hans Blix shortly after the invasion. "While the U.S. and UK were inclined to say, 'Iraq should present the anthrax.'" Guantánamo Bay is still full of people who were incarcerated because they were not able to prove they were not guilty and whose guilt was to some extent inferred by their incarceration.