Live Birtherism!

Even though President Obama released his long-form birth certificate on Wednesday, America’s favorite conspiracy theory is clinging — bitterly clinging, the president might say — to life by its fingernails. Less than two hours after the document appeared on the internet, the Drudge Report posted a link to the blog of Bryan Michael Nixon, art director for an Atlanta ad firm. Nixon observed that the birth certificate appeared to be composed of distinct “layers.” In TPM, Benjy Sarlin reports: “The debunked forgery revelation drew thousands of comments on messageboards, migrated to birther and truther conspiracy guru Alex Jones’ site, while a video explanation was viewed over 160,000 times on YouTube.”

To be fair, conspiracy theorizing is a bipartisan affair. In Salon, Justin Elliott reveals that Brad Scharlott, a professor of journalism at Northern Kentucky University, has written a “29-page academic-style paper” shilling for the other side’s birthers — the ones who believe that Trig Palin is actually Bristol’s. Titled “Palin, the Press, and the Fake Pregnancy Rumor: Did a Spiral of Silence Shut Down the Story?”, it alleges that Palin conspired with Bill McAllister, her communications director, to divert the press from digging too deep for facts.

It’s not too hard to see why so many intelligent people will blow their time — and in some cases, their reputations — hunting down some Big Lie or other. There’s something fortifying in believing the worst about the people you hate. Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay, who spent two years researching 9/11 trutherism, tells Justin Elliott: “There are people who are polarized who will simply choose the most radical answer to any question that aligns with their ideological point of view. In the years immediately after 2003 when the Iraq war began, you could say anything about Bush in the left-wing press, and you’d find people who would say, “Oh yes, that’s true. He’s a theocrat, he’s a fascist, he’s a Nazi.”

In this sense, conspiracy theories are the bastard offspring of a legitimate mythmaking impulse. You detect an unsavory quality in some public figure, you want to reify it, make it visible and tangible, so you do what good storytellers do: you exaggerate. With his authoritarian streak, Benedict becomes Ratzi the Nazi. Obama’s not the type to own a bass boat or listen to Kid Rock, therefore he’s a foreigner, a Muslim, or both. This is fine to a point; what fun would discourse be without a little hyperbole? The problem only starts when people start believing their own rhetorical flourishes.

Some very fine minds, however, would say it’s no problem at all. In his Republic, Plato has Socrates introduce the concept of the “Noble Lie,” a set of propositions which, though literally false, would help society cohere if treated as true. The concept has attracted a following. A few days ago, I wrote that the French political theorist Charles Maurras argued that Captain Dreyfus should have remained on Devil’s Island even though innocent. Maurras was not being personally vindictive against Dreyfus; he simply believed that France would flourish, according to his own definition, if governmental corruption remained hidden. Also, though Dreyfus himself was innocent of spying for Germany, Maurras believed that Jews were corrupting the nation by their very presence. Like all myths, the myth of Dreyfus the traitor expressed what the teller believed was a higher truth.

The people who hawk conspiracy theories lack Plato’s and Maurras’ subtlety. They don’t believe their stories the way people believe in myths; they believe them literally. They shovel up mountains of data in support of them. Usually, it’s this obsessive detail orientation, this scrupulosity, that gives them away as kooks. One Trig birther I knew built his whole case around the size of Sarah Palin’s ankles, as they appeared in a photo taken some months before Trig’s birth.. Based on his memories of his wife’s pregnancy, he decided they were not, and could not possibly be, the ankles of an expectant mother.

As far as I’m concerned, this impulse to make the mythical, real is a terrible insult to the imagination. People would stay saner longer if they simply said, “Look, I know Barry Hussein was born in Hawaii, but I can’t stand him, so I’m going to believe he was born in Kenya — no, better, Mecca. That’s my world and I’m living in it “ I don‘t have Orthodoxy on my lap, but Chesterton said something like, “The poet tries to get his head into the cosmos. The logician tries to get his cosmos into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

Homeboy sounds like he’s put his time in on message boards.

– Max Lindenman, Anchoress understudy

  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    Chesterton – brilliant!

  • Shiloh Sharps

    OMG – who wrote this? The Administration’s propaganda corps? Dan Rather on his Magic Word Document Time Travel compiler? You can’t be serious that you BELIEVE a PDF file ONLINE of a purported document = “The Real Thing”.

    My head just exploded.

    If you really BELIEVE what has been offered, then brother, I have land for you in Florida cheap, a bridge to sell you and step this way for your golden opportunity help out my uncle in Nigeria. He’s a crown prince and former head of the Treasury and he’s being unfairly targeted by the government and needs to get $65,000,000 out of the country quick, but he needs your bank account to move it into.

    (good grief, I can’t believe what I just read in this posting)

  • Brendan Kelly

    One of the interesting things I have discovered about conspiracy theorists, is that they draw some sense of comfort from the existence of the conspiracy. Yes there are evil and all powerful forces in charge of the world… but these forces are competent and they are in charge. That is more comforting than the idea that the most powerful man in the world can be shot by a random employee of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Better to think that President Obama is the tool of a well educated, competent,albeit sinister conspiracy than to think that the country really is being lead by a group of incompetent fools.

  • Dan

    A guy spent millions of dollars and devoted an enormous amount of legal billable hours to sequestering away basic information about himself.

    Now why would that guy do that?

    Moreover, he continued to do that even whilst knowing that for some, even in his own party, this determination to shield basic, non politically threatening information was raising questions.

    Now he comes out and pretends that merely releasing information that should have been disclosed long ago is some kind of political victory, and does this while real unemployment exceeds 10%, real underemployment exceeds 20% and the job market for 18 to 25 year olds hasn’t been so bad since the Great Depression itself.

    So again, what kind of creature does something like this?

    You’ve suggested that conspiracy theories say something about those that subscribe to them. Well, what of those whose actions are DELIBERATELY intended to give birth to PRECISELY those conspiracy theories you decry. What of them?

    And before you answer, recall too obama’s own disclosure of how he and a roomate would sit mocking white people who went by, ridiculing them, deriding them, laughing at them. And all the while deluding themselves that they were something special, something sophisticated, something refined.

    A disclosure happened, to be sure, ———- but it bespeaks more about obama than it does anyone else.


    Brendan Kelly said..”Better to think that President Obama is the tool of a well educated, competent,albeit sinister conspiracy than to think that the country really is being lead by a group of incompetent fools.”

    Really? Well educated, competent AND Sinister is better then incompetent fools?
    At least with the incompetent fools, you’d have some small chance that their plans would be complete failures from the onset, rather then simply grossly unsavory, but completely, competently, and effectively enacted! How many of the details that the author poses as an indicator of kookiness of conspiracy adherents, are hidden and well disguised within the work of the well educated, competent and sinister efforts of those you would prefer in charge?
    You might want to reconsider having either extreme of only two points of view for the most desirable traits description of those in charge of us all.

  • cathyf

    Well I’m in the “intellectual challenge” camp. For all these years I kept trying to imagine something that could be on the birth certificate that was worth all of the trouble that Obama was taking to hide it. Born outside of Hawaii? Not hardly likely given the expense and time constraints of propeller aircraft. Adopted by Sotero? Really Frank Marshall Davis’ son and his parents and grandparents lied? But all of that would have made his core political messages about the parental irresponsibility of his parents even more poignant than they already were. Maybe the “long form” made it obvious that the short form was a forgery (for example something was spelled right on the short form that was wrong on the long form) and so it was the “not the crime but the coverup” scenario. But none of this made any sense — I simply couldn’t imagine anything that could be on the long form that would make the stonewalling reasonable.

    And then we saw it, and there was nothing there, and the conclusion became totally obvious, and I so totally didn’t see it coming.

    Obama is a jerk.

  • ahem

    Any person who believes that it is perfectly fine for Mr. Obama to spend more than $2M of the taxpayer’s money in legal fees to quixotically prevent releasing an innocuous copy of his birth certificate is really in no position to criticize anyone else’s intellect.

  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    I’m so delighted to stop by here and find that what I thought all along was incorrect. Of course the world is flat, isn’t it?

    God forgive me the lack of charity I feel when I read this comment thread, but the majority of what I read makes me feel sick.

  • Greta

    The issue should have been and still is about leadership.

    Forget this person and the birth certificate for a moment. Pretend the guy has just been made the CEO of a company and that the company is facing some very tough times. It has been spending more than it is taking in and the products it produces are of poor quality. A question comes up that asks if the new CEO was selected based on a fraudulent resume. Over time, this rumor grows within the company and divisons form. Originally, there were three camps concerning the CEO. Those that like and support what he is starting to do and those that hate what he is doing and have strong beliefs that he is a fraud. In the middle are those that originally supported him and were keeping an open mind on the fraud issue. Those in the middle however as each day passes, are starting to join the non CEO fans and beliving that something must be there for the CEO not to straighten out this confusion as it would be very easy to release accurate information about his qualifications and past. Yet the CEO, despite all the negative things going on within and outside the company, refuses to straighten it out for three years. Those non CEO group that might have been won over are made more anti CEO, those pro CEO find themselves defending him all the time, and those in the middle swining against him until a USA/Gallop poll shows on 38% believe his resume qualifications. Then he releases the info with very little effort on his part and pokes fun at those who doubted him. Was this good leadership by the CEO? To me is smacks of pride and arrogance and a lack of respect for those he is there to lead, especially in tough times. The hatred allowed to grow and fester then makes some in that group question what he finally presented because it makes no sense for him to not provide what could have ended the question on the first day. Why did he put everyone through this?

    So forget the “birther” tag which the defending lovers of the CEO tried to tie around the neck of anyone who questioned their guy. Forget those on the fringe on the other side. Think of all those not on the fringe of either side, but in the middle who were put through this mess for no reason for three years. Was that leadership or was it leadership from behind in full bloom. It took the poll numbers dropping to 38% before this loser saw it was his behind in jepordy that said you better get out from and lead. Too late loser.

  • cathyf

    Ok, now that we’ve just found out that Obama has known for a week that OBL was dead, the taking time out to send his lawyer to Hawaii to pick up the birth certificate just looks weird.

  • Pestolover

    Max, why assume experts, like Karl Deninger, who find fault scientifically with what the White House has offered us, are merely indulging in mythical fantasy? And is it really responsible to trot out Trig Palin as some sort of analogue? Is that balanced? Really? I don’t think everyone needs to be interested in this issue. Personally, I don’t think it is likely to be resolved given the WH’s commitment to opacity. Having said that, the evidence for fraud here is not negligible, and people who point it out are not cranks. I think Obama will continue to be pressed between who he professes to be and who he really is. The disconnect at many levels and across broad issues will continue to erode the public’s confidence in him. I think the birth certificate controversy – which he brought to us, mind you, we didn’t bring it to him, will continue to be seen as part of this greater context. I really don’t think it’s going to just go away because those who notice things amiss are mocked by those who aren’t interested in looking more closely. Here are a couple links only for people interested in having a more informed opinion on the matter. One final comment: the subject of President Obama’s birth is not only of interest to his detractors. Here is a loooong post researched by someone who seems to have quite an exhalted opinion of him. This person has gone to great lengths and has done a tremendous amount of research to put forth the possibility that his true father is none other than Malcolm X. I don’t subscribe to this theory myself, but let’s note that glaring inconsistencies are not only noted by people that aren’t happy with President Obama.

  • sj

    The fact is that Obama released his legal birth certificate three years ago. He had absolutely no obligation to pester Hawaii to release the back-up documents in its vault. And there is little evidence for the assertion that he has spent “millions of dollars” trying to keep the so-called “long form” secret.

  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    sj who commented above at #12, your voice, like my own, will be drown out here. This thread and many like it are determined to find only darkness and not light.

  • Brother Jeff

    Very weird to withhold this for three years, and it actually confirms that his father was not an American citizen at the time of his birth.

    The weight of authority on Article II holds that you are a “natural born” citizen – - a higher level of “citizen,” only when both of your parents are American citizens at the time of your birth. This is the only reason McCain was allowed to run in 2008 – - because both of his parents were American citizens at the time of his birth in Panama. The Founders wanted to protect the country against divided loyalties.

    The media simply cannot deal with this issue fairly or accurately, resorting instead to calling everyone who raises the issue “crazy” or a “birther.” If it had been Nixon or Bush hiding records, we all know what the reaction of the MSM would have been. But they love Obama, and until Congress or the Supreme Court takes up the issue once and for all as to who is a natural born citizen, I guess he gets a pass. Given that he gave the order to kill Bin Laden, I’ll give him one.

  • Daybrother

    cathyf and Greta said what I wanted to say. But I will add that I’ve noticed over the years that politicians in general and particularly recently of one political party seem to believe that the rule of law and the Constitution does not apply to them or their actions; That is for the great unwashed and not the enlightened class. Think about this: If you will recall, John Kerry refused to release the single page of his DD form which would have shown if he was discharged under less than honorable conditions or if that status had been changed under the Carter amnesty program. There were legitimate questions because he met with the North Vietnamese in Paris while still serving as a naval officer and coordinated antiwar protests with that enemy. Eventually, even though he received tremendous media cover and the “Swift Boaters” were derided as liars and “crazy”, just before the election to the most powerful position in the World (outside the Vatican), Kerry released a copy to a single reporter for the Boston Globe. He in turn did not publish it but rather reported that “there was nothing unusual” about the document. To this day no one else has seen it and you often read about how the Swift Boaters were “discredited” although nothing of the sort happened.

  • sj

    Cite your source on that, Brother Jeff.

  • sj

    “Here is a loooong post researched by someone who seems to have quite an exhalted opinion of him. This person has gone to great lengths and has done a tremendous amount of research to put forth the possibility that his true father is none other than Malcolm X. ”

    Pestolover, if you believe the author of that post has an exalted opinion of President Obama, I have a great selection of bridges from all over the world to sell you.

  • Brother Jeff

    Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162 (1874): In this case decided after the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court stated (pp. 167–68):
    “The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of PARENTS WHO WERE ITS CITIZENS became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.”

    There is a lot more from the past. But interestingly, Obama himself was one of the sponsors of the resolution declaring McCain to be a natural born citizen because his “parents” – - plural – - were American citizens at the time of his birth. Can’t get much more ironic than that. And it was the NY Times that was after McCain about his eligibility to run given his birth on a base in Panama.

    The Court apparently only has three Justices willing to hear one of these cases, so they will never be heard.

  • sj

    “By the law of England for the last three centuries, beginning before the settlement of this country, and continuing to the present day, aliens, while residing in the dominions possessed by the crown of England, were within the allegiance, the obedience, the faith or loyalty, the protection, the power, and the jurisdiction of the English sovereign; and therefore every child born in England of alien parents was a natural-born subject, unless the child of an ambassador or other diplomatic agent of a foreign state, or of an alien enemy in hostile occupation of the place where the child was born. III. The same rule was in force in all the English colonies upon this continent down to the time of the Declaration of Independence, and in the United States afterwards, and continued to prevail under the constitution as originally established.”
    United States v. Wong Kim Ark (SCOTUS 1898)

  • brother jeff

    Um that deals with aliens and ‘subjects’ of the crown. Off point as they say.

    If Obama’s father had been Iranian or Japanese, we wouldn’t even have this debate. But he was Kenyan so the pressure is to look the othet way.

  • sj

    As for Miner, it can’t be read as stating a requirement that both parents must be citizens for their child to be a “natural born citizen.” You cut off your quotation before a key sentence that clarifies that it in no way intends to hold that two citizen parents are required:

    “[I]t was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents. As to this class there have been doubts, but never as to the first. For the purposes of this case, it is not necessary to solve these doubts. It is sufficient for everything we have now to consider that all children born of citizen parents within the jurisdiction are themselves citizens.”

  • sj

    Not off point at all, Jeff. Wong holds that if you’re born in the United States, you’re a natural born citizen.

  • brother jeff

    Sj, the distinction, which is in Article II itself, is between citizens, which Obama is, and natural born citizen, which is highly dubious given that his father was Kenyan. only Article II imposes this higher level of citizenship, which the Founders did not require for Congress. The reasons are readily apparent from a review of the history of our founding

  • brother jeff

    Ha. If Wong held that, which it doesn’t, it would be on the White House web page. Lol.

  • sj

    Miner notes that the definition of natural born citizen must be found outside of Article II. Wong and Miner both indicate that persons born in the United States are natural born citizens, as does Elg v. Perkins, which further states that any ambiguity should be construed in favor of the rights of citizenship.

  • brother jeff

    No they don’t ‘indicate’ that at all, that is why the media is being silent about the true Constitutional issue in this matter. But nice to converse with someone who is head and shoulders above partisan freaks like chris matthews who is temperamentally incapable of articulating this issue correctly. Our country went from intellects like william f buckley to him.

  • sj

    The lengthy discussion of the history of citizenship by birth in Wong makes it clear that the Court equates “natural born” with “citizenship by birth” and then the Court holds that Wong is a citizen by virtue of being born in the U.S., so it’s pretty foolish to argue otherwise.

  • brother jeff

    That is so incorrect that it’s hard to respond. You are mixing up the statuses of citizen with natural born citizen.

    In any case, just to short cut this because I don’t know if you’re an attorney or not, but the Clintons did this analysis a long time ago and concluded that while it is highly dubious that Obama is a natural born citizen under Article II (even though he is a citizen), it is not so crystal clear despite the language in Minor so that a Supreme Court decision wouldn’t be required. And the politics of pressing for that were intolerable. So they went silent on it. And so did, predictably, the media.

    The issue has never been about where he was born; it has been the citizenship of his father. I go back again to the resolution permitting McCain to run. McCain, a POW and war hero, for God’s sake. There were actually Congressional hearings on whether he was a “natural born” citizen despite his heroic valor in war and imprisonment for 5 damn years in a prison camp. Obama co-sponsored the resolution, which noted that his “parents” were American citizens, so he was “natural born.”

  • sj

    It’s not me, Jeff, but the Supreme Court that has equated born in the United States with “natural born.” You have put no cases on the table that assert otherwise. McCain’s situation was the partial reverse of Obama’s in that both parents were citizens but McCain was born in the Canal Zone, which by law was not considered U.S. territory.

    If you have a cite to the Clinton analysis put it out there but otherwise you really haven’t produced anything that supports your position.

  • brother jeff

    Oh dear Lord you are being laughably obtuse my friend. Under your analysis, any baby born of a pregnant Mexican woman coming over the border of Arizona, 8 months pregnant, would be eligible to be president. This is actually what the Founders were worried about, vis a vis Europe.


  • sj

    We’re not sure what or more precisely, who the Founders sought to prevent from becoming president. Subsequent attempts to interpret that resulted in the current line of cases that might lead to that result. I think room remains to argue that a child born of parents here illegally is not eligible for the presidency. However, if someone is born here, lives here at least 35 years and has sufficient qualifications to be elected president by winning a majority of electoral votes, I’m not sure I would doubt their suitability for the presidency.

  • Brother Jeff

    Ultimately the Court would/will have to decide.

    It is an important issue, regardless of Obama’s current presidency, and it would be nice if the media could frame the issue in a rational manner, i.e., stop calling people “birthers” like they’re in high school and ignoring the real merits of the dispute. It’s very clear from the Constitution that “citizen” and “natural born citizen” are two different things.