Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 2, 2009

THE BIRTHERS.... I call them "conversation enders." These are comments that lead you to know, the moment you hear them, that the writer/speaker is either clueless or intellectually dishonest, and there's really no reason to engage the person in a serious dialog.

I suspect we all have them. When I hear, "Tax cuts are fiscally responsible because they pay for themselves," it's a conversation ender. When I hear, "Evolution is just a theory," it's a conversation ender. When someone says, "Global warming can't be real because it's cold outside," it's a conversation ender.

And when someone questions whether Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen of the United States, it's definitely a conversation ender. With that in mind, Ben Smith has a good piece today describing the odd little movement behind this argument, making up a group apparently known as the "Birthers."

Out of the gaze of the mainstream and even the conservative media is a flourishing culture of advocates, theorists and lawyers, all devoted to proving that Barack Obama isn't eligible to be president of the United States. Viewed as irrelevant by the White House, and as embarrassing by much of the Republican Party, the subculture still thrives from the conservative website WorldNetDaily, which claims that some 300,000 people have signed a petition demanding more information on Obama's birth, to Cullman, Alabama, where Sen. Richard Shelby took a question on the subject at a town hall meeting last week.

Their confinement to the fringe hasn't cooled the passion of believers; the obscure New York preacher James Manning turned up at a National Press Club session in December to declare the president "the most notorious criminal in the history not just of America, but of this entire planet."

Smith wisely notes that, in our reality, the claim itself is transparently ridiculous. But the fact that these strange people are out there, aggressively pushing their argument, is a dynamic with multiple angles.

For example, the nuttiness in some ways helps the White House because it makes the president's detractors look ridiculous. Former Clinton White House press secretary Jake Siewert said, "At some level, they're not that bad to have around because it reminds people that under the mainstream conservative press there's this bubbling up of really irrational hatred for the guy."

And that's precisely what worries some conservatives who want their attacks against the White House to be taken seriously. Michael Medved referred to the Birthers as "crazy, nutburger, demagogue, money-hungry, exploitative, irresponsible, filthy conservative imposters" who are "the worst enemy of the conservative movement." He added, "It makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled, and not suitable for civilized company."

So, the "mainstream" right is debating whether they should actively root for Obama's policies to fail, and the "fringe" right is debating whether Obama is even eligible for the presidency.

Just keep on talking, guys.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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Comments

"Michael Medved referred to the Birthers as 'crazy, nutburger, demagogue, money-hungry, exploitative, irresponsible, filthy conservative imposters'..."

Praise from Caesar!

Posted by: T Paine on March 2, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

The assertion that Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen of the United States is just a theory.

Posted by: Al on March 2, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK


In heaven they'd be institutionalized.

(My profound apologies to Theodore Roethke)

Silvia

Posted by: silvia on March 2, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Dag. When Medved says you're crazee, you've done gone and done it.

Posted by: nolo on March 2, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

I agree, now can someone get a note to Andrew Sullivan about obtaining "evidence" that Obama has a valid birth certificate?

He ends every one of his blog posts about "birthers" by saying it would be nice if Obama would just "release" an official copy of his birth certificate.

Where, exactly, do you "release" such a thing? Does everyone in the U.S. get an official copy mailed to them? Did Andrew request an official copy?

You would think he was talking about the absence of a birth record for Sarah Palin's Trig.

Posted by: tomj on March 2, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

What i can't figure out is what they think will happen if Obama were to be proven ineligible. do they really like Biden that much?

Posted by: Personal Failure on March 2, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

So, Medved voted them off Mercer Island.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 2, 2009 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Given the right wing´s penchant for assasination, I would rather do without these folks vilifying our president.

Posted by: inkadu on March 2, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

"It makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled, and not suitable for civilized company."

You say that as if you're not . . . .

Posted by: retr2327 on March 2, 2009 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

So this is what you punks mean when you insolently mutter "C.E." at me after every comment out of my mouth. I thought it was a nickname for some party drug you salary types use on the weekends to forget about your uninvested-in-the-economy lives.

Posted by: Myke K on March 2, 2009 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

And lest we forget, this so-called birther movement really got its first batch of true believers from the ranks of the PUMAs. Man, PUMAs really are the gift that keep on giving!

Posted by: tomjones on March 2, 2009 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

my gawd! this is worse than clinton derangement syndrome!

Posted by: just bill on March 2, 2009 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

I love these wackos, I encourage them to speak as loud and as often as possible.

You cannot reach them with facts or logic or reason, they are too far off the reservation. They will not believe anything other than the narrative they have running through their heads; Obama isn't a US citizen and state govts are collaborating with him to keep this a secret therefore he isn't the actual president, therefore they are not bound to respect his office. Obama is also spending millions on lawyers to keep 'the truth' from being discovered.

Fucking insane. What more can you say?

I knew there would be a small but vocal contingent of wackos who would lose their shit once Obama won, but I didn't think it would be so much so soon.

Anyone hear what Alan Keyes said last week? Glen Beck had a show about armed insurrection against the govt. Hannity has polls on his website about the same topic. These people are...fucking insane.

Posted by: Robt on March 2, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

I guess Mr.Medved hasn't been listening to the rhetoric at CPAC.

Posted by: Neal on March 2, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

These "birthers" serve as useful idiots to Republicans, allowing them to argue that they (Reps) are moderates.

Posted by: Danp on March 2, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Question: Isn't it the case that if your parent is a US citizen, you're a US citizen, end of story? Regardless of where you're born, when, story over, you're a US citizen, right? Is someone suggesting Obama's mom wasn't from Kansas?

Posted by: eadie on March 2, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

A few years back I was quite suprised to find a whole lot of people think the moon landings were faked in a Hollywood studio. I bet there is a lot of crossover with the birthers.

Posted by: the seal on March 2, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

This is not too surprizing. The rightwingnuts have always been a few short of a full sixpack.

Last fall, one of the classic anti-Obama narratives was that he couldn't have possibly raised all that campaign cash from small donors, it had to come secretly from large anti-american donors from overseas.

Wingnuts belive that if they wouldn't donate to a skinny black guy with a funny name, then obviously no true american would either.

They are completely delusional.

Posted by: Ed in Montana on March 2, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

eadie, I believe some of these cretins are trying to tie in Toto for the Kansas connection.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 2, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Medved also said he thought the birthers themselves were a conspiracy to discredit the right. Probably not, though that's not such a bad idea. Infiltrate the right, plant carazeeee ideas, and hope they take off. Fertile soil in Wingnut Land. Fertile soil. They're angry, backed into a corner, and by choice anti-empirical. We really should be posting at wingnut sites, ranting about some commie-nazi-welfare plot we've discovered and whining about the way the MSM refuses to unearth it. The only flaw in this plan is whether we have the imagination to be stupid-crazy enough to top anything they're coming up with now.

Posted by: Raenelle on March 2, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Michael Medved referred to the Birthers as "crazy, nutburger, demagogue, money-hungry, exploitative, irresponsible, filthy conservative imposters" who are "the worst enemy of the conservative movement." He added, "It makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled, and not suitable for civilized company."

B-b-b-but Mr. Medved---look in the mirror guy. You ARE weird, crazy, demented, sick troubled and not suitable for civilized company. You're REPUBLICAN, for crying out loud. You worship at the altar of Norquist. You pay homage to the graven image of the Coulter Cow. You bask in the hellish fires of Limbaugh buffoonery---and you expect not to get immolated for it?

Look, this is simple---if you're Republican, you can either stop playing with your pet rabid howler monkeys, or you can get yourself mauled---and die. There are no options---and the pet-rabid-howler-monkey-bite antidote supply just ran out....

Posted by: Steve W. on March 2, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

: Isn't it the case that if your parent is a US citizen, you're a US citizen, end of story? Regardless of where you're born, when, story over, you're a US citizen, right?

I don't think it's quite that simple. For one thing, it makes a difference (or at least it used to) which parent is the US citizen - the mother or the father. If the mother is the citizen, it's easier to get citizenship for the child. But if I'm not mistaken (and I may be), an American mother who gives birth to a child while living overseas has to apply for citizenship for the child. This would then mean the child wasn't a "natural born" citizen, at least under some interpretations of that phrase.

Obama, born in the US to an American mother, is unquestionably a native-born citizen. The funny thing is that it was actually John McCain whose eligibility for the presidency was questionable, since he was not born in the United States.

Posted by: jeebus on March 2, 2009 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure he deserves any particular assumptions as to his true feelings, but Hon. Sen. Shelby, if one parses his statement closely, said that no one who wasn't a natural born American can be president; Mr. Obama is the President, ergo he's a natural born American. With this the Senator has avoided sounding too antagonistic to the doubtless legion of his political supporters who are gullible enough to think they might believe this nonsense about birth certificates.

Posted by: jhm on March 2, 2009 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

""It makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled, and not suitable for civilized company."

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, then it's probably a duck.

The birthers are all of those things, but they are also now the mainstream conservatives. The things they say aren't that far off from what I hear out of elected Republicans and their leaders on talk radio.

Posted by: atlliberal on March 2, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Of COURSE Obama was born in a foreign country. I have drove my Hummer to 49 of the Yew Nited States, but not to the Cannibal Islands. Got to take a boat to get there. PROVES it's a foreign country, and ipso facto he is too. I don't know why you people don't get it, it's simple Aristotle Logic.

And another thing. So is that Bobby Jingles, Mayor of Louisianna. Named for a foreign king of FRANCE, no less, and bought off him by Mr. Tom Jefferson, a known lefty and racial mixer.

Bobby's a Indian, and I don't mean the paint and feathers kind, neither. Just look at him, and you can tell.

Y'all just wait until 2012. We has got a plan. . .

Posted by: DAY on March 2, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

He added, "It makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled, and not suitable for civilized company."

Wow. Just - wow!

Michael Medved, of all people, finally got something dead right.

Hell has officially frozen over and you should look to the west tomorrow to see the sunrise.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 2, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

The modern day republican party is an epic struggle between crazy and stupid.

Posted by: JoeW on March 2, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

A good friend of mine, an elderly, retired West Point graduate, is part of this crew. Evidently many of his former officer buddies are too. I wonder how many active officers subscribe to this belief. That would be a group to take a bit more seriously.

Posted by: Nat on March 2, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

"So, the 'mainstream' right is debating whether they should actively root for Obama's policies to fail, and the 'fringe' right is debating whether Obama is even eligible for the presidency."

Those two views are dependent upon one another.

The "mainstream" right feels justified in rooting for failure BECAUSE its members believe that the current administration is, by definition, illegitimate. This shows just how close the current "conservative movement" has drifted ideologically toward the "paranoid style" of what was once called the "survivalist right."

To the "survivalists," ANY U.S. administration is part of "ZOG," the "Zionist Occupation Government." Therefore, in their minds, it is the ultimate act of patriotism to resist the elected leaders of the United States, by arms if necessary.

The contemporary "mainstream right" may not have slid quite that far yet, but the "rooting for failure" rhetoric that it heartily embraces is well on its way down that slippery slope.

Posted by: scribe9 on March 2, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

"the most notorious criminal in the history not just of America, but of this entire planet."

So.....
If this guy had a paradox-free time machine and he could prevent the birth of Hitler, Stalin, Osama Bin Laden, or Obama...

He'd pick Obama????

Says a lot, doesn't it?

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 2, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many active officers subscribe to this belief. That would be a group to take a bit more seriously.

"Take a bit more seriously" as in give them more credence than we give the fools screaming on WorldNetDaily, or "take a bit more seriously" as in be scared silly (without being particularly surprised) that some members of the officer corps are this crazy?

Posted by: shortstop on March 2, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

My favorite conversation ender is "Rush said..."

Posted by: Buck B. on March 2, 2009 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

It qualifies as a thought disorder rather than reasonable discourse. The weird conservative right are convinced that Obama isn't a "real" American because, obviously, the only real Americans are white and Republican. Obviously, a guy with dark skin cannot be an American. The birth thing is just their attempt to rationalize their conviction.

As for reality, my understanding is one is a natural citizen either because one has an American parent or because one is born in the US.

When rational people observe that Obama's mother was an American citizen which makes Obama an American citizen regardless of where he was born, Kenya or the the USA, the nutters respond that she wasn't 18 when he was born, so she couldn't confer citizenship. Therefore, Obama cannot be a US citizen. (I don't think the age of the mother matters, btw. And isn't application for citizenship a recent stipulation and relevant only when the child's permanent residence is outside of the USA?)

When it is pointed out that Obama's birth certificate is from Hawaii, not Kenya, they claim that Hawaii was not yet a US state when Obama was born, therefore, he can't be a citizen. Or they claim that Obama's birth certificate isn't real (that's why they want to see the original) since they KNOW that Obama was really born in Kenya. In either case, he cannot be a real American.

It's looney-tunes stuff. They just keep moving the facts around in order to rationalize their hate. Medved was being nice. The good news is that it is so patently nutty. With Clinton, the same group could go on and on, and they were able to Lewisky him.

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 2, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Drat. Misspelled Lewinsky.

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 2, 2009 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

"The funny thing is that it was actually John McCain whose eligibility for the presidency was questionable, since he was not born in the United States."
Posted by: jeebus on March 2, 2009

Not funny at all, if you mean funny-strange, and only mildly funny in a bleak-humor kinda way if you mean funny-haha. It's absolutely deliberate.
As David Neiwert, at Orcinus, and Tom Tomorrow, among others, have carefully elucidated, if you want to know what the Rethugs and the wingnuts are up to, track what they're accusing the left of. It's a carefully contrived -- and highly effective in most cases, with the connivance of the MSM -- ploy to inoculate themselves against being called out for whatever malfeasance they're engaged in.
Thus Jane/Joe Sixpak often concludes, "Eh, the pols, they all do that."
When of course they do not all do that -- the Rethugs do.
If you pay attention, you'll find the explanatory and predictive power of this theory is very high.

Posted by: smartalek on March 2, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

No, see, Ben Smith and some of ya'll are a bit confused on this. The birthers' claim is not that Obama is not a citizen because his father's Kenyan, it's that Obama is not a citizen because he was actually born in Kenya (not Hawaii). See here, for example (courtesy of Phyllis Schlafly's son): http://www.conservapedia.com/Obama

Posted by: Johnny1B on March 2, 2009 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

I noticed that the Obama birth-certificate conspiracy theory actually made it on to the front page of a supermarket tabloid or two. I think it was the Sun. Either way it looked good to me. The more Republican talking points are splashed onto the front page of that type of rag, the better. Hell, if the Weekly World News were still around, I would hope that Ed Anger would devote some columns to the issue.

Posted by: tom on March 2, 2009 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Question: Isn't it the case that if your parent is a US citizen, you're a US citizen, end of story?"

No. My nephew, a natural born US citizen, married a girl from Australia. They then had a daughter who was born in Melbourne. He explained to me that there are rules about how recently had the US citizen lived in the US, for how long, how long had the citizen lived in the US after their birth, etc. etc.

I forget the details (I'm sure they can be looked up), but the short answer is 'No', it is not an automatic.

Posted by: Robert Earle on March 2, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Scary stuff, though. The kind of people who believe this stuff are the kind of people who shoot up churches for their liberal views. I hope at least someone in the Obama administration is looking at these unhinged loons as a serious threat.

Posted by: doubtful on March 2, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

The details of what I was saying about the rules for citizenship of people born outside the US.

http://travel.state.gov/law/info/info_609.html

Posted by: Robert Earle on March 2, 2009 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

"It makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled, and not suitable for civilized company."

It's naked lunch for the Republicans, this is who they are. As Rush said,

One thing we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat them is with better policy ideas.

Posted by: alan on March 2, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

New York preacher James Manning declared the president "the most notorious criminal in the history not just of America, but of this entire planet."

Now some talking-heads show is going to set this guy up as the "moderate" against someone who believes Obama's also Enemy No. 1 on other planets...

Posted by: Chris S. on March 2, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

"Question: Isn't it the case that if your parent is a US citizen, you're a US citizen, end of story?"

And, of course, it isn't enough to just be a citizen to become President, one must be a natural born citizen.

Posted by: Robert Earle on March 2, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

A few of the "birther" buffoons also cared about the shaky status of John McCain being born in the Panama Canal Zone (well, what was up with that?) but not enough/of them to keep the current obsession from having a hypocritical flair. But as silly as they are, I wish Obama would make it easier for his supporters by releasing the best birth info he can. Yes, he should - even as silly as it is for some to think that e.g. his mother went way back to Kenya or to Indonesia to give birth to Barack, but still planted a newspaper birth announcement in HI for some reason. That some in Kenya do say BHO was born there (likely for status, including some relatives wanting to believe that, or from confusion) doesn't help.

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on March 2, 2009 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Johnny1B, not all birther theories are alike. Check around, and you'll find some proponents saying it does matter that the father was from Kenya, even if BHO was born in HI.
Try this: http://podblanc.com/obamas-father-registered-him-as-a-kenyan-citizen-obama-not-american-under-thennow-extant-kenyanus-in

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on March 2, 2009 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

No. My nephew, a natural born US citizen, married a girl from Australia. They then had a daughter who was born in Melbourne. He explained to me that there are rules about how recently had the US citizen lived in the US, for how long, how long had the citizen lived in the US after their birth, etc. etc.

That last bit is incorrect. Residency rules only apply if the parent is a naturalized (rather than a natural) citizen. If your nephew is natural born, then he is a US citizen without qualification his entire life (unless he actively renounces) and therefore it doesn't matter for how long he lived in the US, etc.

Posted by: Stefan on March 2, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

yes, it would be amusing. unfortunately, these are often the same people who get all excited about the idea of violence against government and their fellow citizens. go troll the deeper sectors of the CPAC crowd (freeperville, etc) and watch the pajama militia try to psych themselves up for the idea that it's their moral duty to start a revolution. it's like listening to frat boys at a strip club. all drooling and talking. the problem is, eventually one of them gets up the courage to rush the stage. The anonymity of the internet makes it potentially worse, actually. there's no public culpability.

Posted by: northzax on March 2, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan -

You misunderstood me (probably easy to do). Any question of citizenship in what I wrote is meant to apply to the question of his daughter's citizenship, not his.

I put up a link a few posts later to the specific rules: eg. the natural-born-citizen parent must have lived in the US for five years of the natural-born-parent's life for the non-natural-born-child to be eligible for citizenship, etc etc.

Posted by: Robert Earle on March 2, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

The anonymity of the internet makes it potentially worse, actually. there's no public culpability.

True, but there's visibility to those whose jobs it is to take seriously threats against elected officials and keep an eye on those making them -- something that's missing from barroom bravado parties.

Posted by: shortstop on March 2, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

I wish Obama would make it easier for his supporters by releasing the best birth info he can. -- Neil B, @13:01

Where you been all this time, boy? He *has* done that; a copy of his birth certificate (not just a a copy of the announcement) had been prominently displayed on his website during the primaries and the general. But, as Benen says, there's no reasoning with those who refuse to use reason and hang onto their beliefs, through thick and thin.

Even if Obama ended every Saturday address with "and here, BTW, is the copy of my birth certificate", the nuts wouldn't believe it. They'd claim -- as they did about the certificate on the website -- that it's a fake.

Posted by: exlibra on March 2, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

The wingnuts are playing to lose. Our culture allows people to cheat when (#1) they're on the side of good, and (#2) they're losing.

Wanna sleep with the babysitter, cheat on your taxes, and rip off your tenants' security deposit? Pick an issue, find the losing side, and convince yourself it's the one that Jesus would have taken.

Ta-da! Now you have moral license to steal, cheat, and lie!

If I was willing to expand this to book length, I'm sure Regnery would buy it...

Posted by: BigHank53 on March 2, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

I really shouldn't be trying to make these nutbags' arguments, but I don't even think the issue is whether Obama was born in this country, but that his Father was Kenyan and that somehow means Obama wasn't "natural born"--which, to me, means that anyone born in this country, with one parent who wasn't a U.S. citizen at the time, isn't "natural born" and therefore not a citizen.

Of course this would mean that there would be a whole lot of other people who would no longer be considered citizens, since a huge part of the population are children of immigrants.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on March 2, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

In my regular day to day if I met someone like these birthers I'd just write them off a nutbags. But then I remember that the Republicans spent something like 6 years and $100 million looking to find anything they could make stick on Clinton. If Republicans gain any seats in 2010 or 2012 then they'll do it again. It won't matter if Obama has saved the economy, brought peace and prosperity to the world and started the United Federation of Planets (Star Trek reference), the Republicans will try to find something.

I thought that the Religous Right were a bunch of loonies until they took over most of the Republican Party. Someone should keep an eye on them.

Posted by: madstork123 on March 2, 2009 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

I know Barrack Obama is an Egyptian. He wants to rebuild the White House in the shape of a pyramid.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on March 3, 2009 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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