Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Long live Birtherism!


As Politico reports, Birtherism, the claim that President Obama was not born in the U.S. and is therefore in office illegitimately, is alive and well all across the country:

The opening of 2011 state legislative sessions has been accompanied by a spate of birther-related bills, the clearest indication yet that the controversy surrounding President Barack Obama's place of birth will continue to simmer throughout his reelection campaign.

Lawmakers in at least 10 states have introduced bills requiring presidential candidates to provide some form of proof that they are natural-born citizens, a ballot qualification rule designed to address widespread rumors on the right that Obama was not born in the United States.

On the face, this is basically meaningless. For Birther legislation to have been introduced in 10 states, all you need is 10 crazy right-wing conspiracy-mongering Republican legislators. And ridiculous legislation pops up all the time -- like, for example, proposing that South Carolina should have its own currency.

Certainly some such legislation could pass in a crazy Republican-dominated state -- like, for example, South Carolina -- but the bigger problem is that Birtherism has essentially become pretty standard fare in the GOP, even as its leadership sends mixed signals about it, as is the equally ridiculous claim that Obama is a Muslim. (He's not. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Unless you're a Republican, in which case you probably think there is.)

Take how John Boehner shuffled his way through some admirably tough questioning on Meet the Press on Sunday:

GREGORY: Do you not think it's your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?

BOEHNER: David, it's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That's good enough for me. The president says he's a Christian. I accept him at his word.

GREGORY: But isn't that a little bit fast and loose? I mean, you are the leader in Congress and you are not standing up to obvious facts and saying these are facts, and if you don't believe that it's nonsense?

BOEHNER: I just outlined the facts as I understand them. I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian, I'll take him at his word.

GREGORY: But that kind of ignorance over whether he's a Muslim doesn't concern you?

BOEHNER: Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can't -- it's not my job to tell them.

GREGORY: Why isn't it your job to stand up and say, no, the facts are these? Didn't John McCain do that in --

BOEHNER: I just --

GREGORY: When you're saying "it's good enough for me," are you really standing up and saying, for those that believe that, or who would talk about that -- you had a member of Congress, you had a new Tea Party freshman, who was out just yesterday speaking to conservatives and he said, "I'm fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth and I do have a birth certificate to prove it." That was Raul Labrador, a new Congressman from Idaho. Is that an appropriate way for your members to speak?

BOEHNER: The gentleman was trying to be funny, I would imagine, but remember something  -- it really is not our job to tell the American people what to believe and what do think. There's a lot of information out there, people read a lot of things, but I --

GREGORY: You shouldn't stand up to misinformation or stereotypes?

BOEHNER: I've made clear what I believe the facts are.

Well, maybe, but of course he wants to have it both ways. Boehner obviously knows -- not just believes -- that Obama was born in the U.S. and is a Christian -- but also realizes that he can't dismiss the anti-Obama movement in his own party, given how prevalent it is in the base. And so he hedges: He takes Obama at his word, but, hey, maybe Obama's word shouldn't be taken. He believes he knows the facts, but he could be wrong. In other words, he's covering both sides of his ass, talking bullshit to make it seem as if he's the sane leader of an insane party while refusing to say anything definitive, anything that might upset the Birthers and Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim crazies. Indeed, far from condemning them, he's actually legitimizing them, and their views, by refusing to take a stand for the obvious truth. (Yes, they have a right to their views, but that doesn't mean all views are equally legitimate or that you can't criticize any views at all.)

And don't even get me started on that whole "we're here to listen to the American people, not tell them what to think" stupidity. Please. That's pure dishonesty, and, lamely defending himself on national TV, a ridiculous cop-out. If that's what he thinks political leadership is, or leadership of any kind, he should resign immediately. But not before voting to un-repeal the Affordable Care Act, which even around the elections last November, when Republicans took back the House, had the support of a majority of the American people.

Are you listening, Speaker Boehner? Stop the insanity.

(Although, come to think of it, I'm fine with the Republicans embracing all the insanity they can handle. And if that includes more and more Birtherism, hey, why not? The Democrats, including the president himself, just look better and better by comparison as Republicans move further to the right and further into the clutches of demented and deeply bigoted conspiracy theories.)

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