I have an unhealthy fascination with conspiracy theories. I think they’re interesting. Crazy, sure, but the human mind seems capable of accommodating all kinds of crazy. Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Earl of Oxford. The moon landings were faked. Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA/FBI/Secret Service/Castro/the Mafia/The Illuminati. Love that kind of thing.
It’s a little harder to like the Birther issue. I mean, sure, it’s really silly. And it helps that the people who push the case are, uh, colorful. Orly Taitz, for example, the Queen Bee of Birferstan (a really mean nickname, which I feel terrible about using, except that I also think it’s pretty funny). She’s a dentist/attorney/real estate agent, the ‘attorney’ part coming from an on-line diploma mill. She’s got one ally: Joe “Tent City” Arpaio. What these two have in common is a love for publicity and controversy. To which end, they both think Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, but in Kenya, making him ineligible to be President.
Let’s first of all get our facts straight; President Obama was born in Hawaii. Here’s how I know; I investigated it very very carefully. As carefully as was needed. REALLY carefully. I glanced at the short-form birth certificate on the internet for a second or two. Done and done.
I mean, come on. 1960, an 18 year-old college freshman at the University of Hawaii, Ann Dunham, meets a grad student from Kenya named Barack Obama. They date, she gets pregnant, they marry, in 1961. Her parents live in Hawaii. She has friends there. She has the baby in August, 1961. None of this is really disputed.
Now, this is the subsequent narrative birthers want us to swallow. Somehow, instead of having her baby in Hawaii, where she lived, where her parents lived, she’s supposed to have somehow gotten herself to Kenya and had the baby there, then snuck straight back to Hawaii. Somehow, she got the Hawaiian newspapers to put a birth announcement in their pages, and she snookered the state of Hawaii to put a fake birth certificate in their files. She did all this just in case her baby wanted to run for President forty seven years later. She went to Kenya to have the baby despite the fact that her marriage had already turned so sour that when the baby was one month old, she moved to Washington to get away from the dude.
Or, you know, there’s another possibility. She might have just had the baby in Hawaii, where, like, her Mom could be there for her. And the local papers put in a birth announcement, a routine matter, and the birth certificate got filed with the state, as per procedure.
So you’ve got two stories. One of them is sensible, the other one is nuts. Occam’s Razor.
So, okay, President Obama was born in Hawaii. But see, there are new developments! Check out this video. Local news at its best.
Essentially, this crack investigator concluded that a document scanned into a computer and released on the internet looked like it had been scanned into a computer. And of course, this local news station just interviews one source, the guy claiming the birth certificate is fraudulent. They don’t bother checking with other experts, because that’s not what a local news broadcast does. And this story is way beyond the usual local news ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ capabilities. It requires, like, research. A search for truth. Can’t have that. They also strive for ‘balance,’ which they define as quoting two local residents, one on each side.
This isn’t just shoddy journalism. It exposes everything idiotic about where TV news is nowadays. The sensational allegation, unsubstantiated, and uncontested. The phony-baloney ‘balance,’ achieved by quoting two people, neither of them informed or expert. The empty-headed anchor throwing the story to the equally empty-headed reporter, neither of whom has done the basic research necessary to actually get to the bottom of anything. It’s facile, it’s fake, it’s a simulacrum, a form of journalism, but denying the power thereof.
And now Sheriff Joe wants Congress to look at this, to investigate it. This won’t happen, I suspect. There are surely Congresspeople silly enough to want to investigate something like this–never underestimate the capacity of Congresspeople to make fools of themselves–but it’s also the kind of thing that can hurt you electorally. I mean, even Michele Bachman has backed down from it.
Orly Taitz is making a big deal of the fact that Chief Justice Roberts accepted her brief (filed with several other actual attorneys) to look at her evidence regarding Obama’s birth certificate. SCOTUS grants certiorari in about one percent of the cases before it. Granting cert just means that they agree to decide the case. But they get thousands of cases annually. On her website she implies that Justice Roberts himself will be reading her thousands of pages of birther nonsense. He won’t–that’s why the Justices have clerks. Poor guys. For the record, Chief Justice Roberts has four clerks this term: Caroline Edsall, Jonathan Ellis, Benjamin Snyder and Sina Kian. One each from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Penn. One or all of them will have to read at least some of the collected works of Orly Taitz. Remember them in your prayers.
So what’ll happen is that the clerks will read Orly’s brief (or as much of it as they can stomach), and make a recommendation, which will be in this case, to deny cert. And Orly will blog ominously about how Chief Justice Roberts is being blackmailed or something. What it won’t do is end the conspiracy talk. No amount of evidence has ever, in the history of the world, ever ended a conspiracy theory.
Why? Why insist so strenuously on something so ridiculous. But the overreaction on the Right to the Obama Presidency really is something to behold. They really think our country’s in desperate shape. They think this because
they’re freaked out over the very thought of a black guy in the White House they think Obama is a socialist, that he’s going to change our form of government to something all, like, European and icky.
Radical fringe liberals had a conspiracy theory of their own. I know people who believe that President Bush was behind the World Trade Center devastation. Bush apparently wanted to accelerate the war on terror, plus he was desperate to invade Iraq. So he faked 9/11. You’ll hear scientists talk about how the collapse of the towers looks more like a controlled explosion than a meltdown caused by exploding jet fuel. I thought President Bush was kind of historically inept as President. But this ‘truther’ nonsense is as silly as the ‘birther’ nonsense the Right is so fond of.
These conspiracy theories do offer a certain comic relief, though it’s the kind of comedy you feel bad about afterwards. And they do offer us some insight, into the depths of hatred, the intensity of feeling people can bring to an issue that frankly doesn’t affect them personally. The truth of things, though is this: for liberals, President Bush was a President we disagreed with on some policy issues. For conservatives, President Obama is a President they disagree with. Let’s talk about issues. And let’s bring logic, information, evidence to the debate. Not paranoid nonsense.