April 29, 2011

Truthers to the Left of me, Birthers to the Right

The great national issue of our time - whether Obama was born in the U.S. and whether the non-continental U.S. counts - has been decisively settled. And I'm proud of the birthers because they humbly proved, to the great satisfaction of the MSM, that conservatives can be conspiracy theorists blinded by hatred just as much as liberals. Somebody had to step up to the plate and sacrificially offer themselves to the world in order to show that we're not all William F. Buckleys or George Wills here and thus remove any sense of superiority. God bless 'em.

And just as liberals were unrepentant Fenian bastards when it came to admitting they were wrong about x, y, z (where x, y, and z are a nearly infinite supply of facts beginning with the fact that Communism didn't work out well), so too are some of the birthers incapable of admitting error. One I know helpfully supplied a link of Michael Savage asking that Obama now turn over his passport, kindergarten records and rectal thermometer readings. I kid you not, except about that last part.

And, of course, MSNBC, terrified of losing its subject du jour du year, culled its rolodex and found the Last American Birther, a woman who saw through the long form certificate Obama produced. Chris Matthews didn't even have to tell us he had a thrill up his leg while he was interviewing her.

Personally, I've started to stray from my previous obsession with the "rule of law". With Clinton I was right there with the congress folks who wanted him impeached because of the perjury committed. But ultimately the whole crisis seems overblown, if in retrospect.

Much more important in developing my new attitude was what came next: the Iraq war. I understood the reason we were going to be Saddam Hussein's flouting of the ceasefire conditions of the Gulf War. But today, after all the blood and treasure spilt, including the side effect of the demolition of the Iraqi Christians, it feels a very, very hollow thing, that of trying to attend to the letter of your word, in this case concerning the Gulf war ceasefire. A Pyrrhic victory.

Jonah Goldberg has some thoughts:
Frankly, I'm perfectly happy Obama released his birth certificate. I always thought that the only thing worse than the birthers being wrong would be the birthers being right.

Igniting a whacky constitutional crisis because Barack Obama spent a few weeks or months in Kenya as an infant seemed like madness to me. Throwing out the first black president in the middle of his presidency would be absurdly difficult, painful, and counterproductive in every way, dredging up a level of biliousness this country has rarely if ever seen. And at the end of the process, even if a "birther Congress" could have successfully impeached and removed the guy for being ineligible, we would have . . . President Joe Biden.

(By the way, I've long pondered what a Biden presidency would look like. I think the Lloyd Bridges character in Airplane! gives us a good sense of what Biden's presidential leadership style would be.)...

What Took Him So Long?
I got a lot of grief from the usual types for asking why Obama dragged this out as long as he did. I still think it's a perfectly legitimate question.

It seems to me that if there was no "there" there this whole time, the responsible thing would have been for a junior deputy assistant press secretary to release the thing over two years ago.

Think about it. Liberal surrogates in and out of the press and the administration have been saying for two years that the birthers are discrediting the Republican party. They're racist. They're nuts. They're trying to tear down the president and the country with their paranoia. And yet Obama could have put the whole thing to rest with five minutes of paper shuffling. The White House only asked Hawaii for the birth certificate last week. And this was after we'd been told incessantly that Hawaii couldn't find or couldn't release the long-form birth certificate.

(Never mind that we never heard anything like the same level of outrage and dismay over the "truther" conspiracy theories, which A) were more widely held on the left than birtherism has been on the right and B) were far, far more repugnant. One theory held that a politician was hiding something on his birth certificate for political reasons. The other theory held that the United States government from the president down systematically planned and carried out the worst terrorist attack in American history and then successfully covered it up with the help of nearly all of our elite institutions.)

It seems to me the strategists around Obama liked it this way. They thought they could exploit the birthers the way Clinton exploited the militias. Keeping the story in the news by letting the birthers drive themselves nuts helped them. The press helped, too. Did you ever notice how whenever a Republican denounced the birthers or dismissed the issue, the press would often cast it as a tactical move to win moderates, not an act of conviction?

During the week of news coverage that Obama says was dominated by the birther issue, you were something like 35 times more likely to hear about the subject on CNN or MSNBC. Do you think those outlets framed the issue in a light favorable to the birthers or to the president? (Even now, the only media types really eager to prop up the birthers as a serious force are MSNBC hosts and their freelance producers at Media Matters & Co., who want to use the topic for guilt by association.)

Trump changed the equation. As odd as it is to me personally, Trump is a mainstream figure and his birtherism wasn't discrediting the GOP because he's not identified as a "real" Republican. And given the awful economy and the general pessimism out there, the birther thing had more salience culturally (which is unfortunate).

But also, Obama has been cultivating his image as the "grown-up." The White House has been trying to position Obama as the adult in the room, above the squabbling parties. Releasing the birth certificate now and having the president denounce "silliness" and "distractions" was a great way to get that message out there.

Or at least it seemed that way. My hunch is that Americans are starting to figure who Obama really is -- and the answer, as always, has nothing to do with his birth certificate.

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