Thursday, April 28, 2011

Whither Birtherism?

Conservative renegade David Frum may describe Birtherism as a "disgrace" and a "phony controversy," as an issue that effectively ended with yesterday's release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, and I credit Frum for asking how "this poisonous and not very subtly racist allegation [got] such a grip on our conservative movement and our Republican party" (that would be, his movement and his party) and for denouncing "these racialized attacks on Obama" (not just the Birther allegation but the new allegation, via Donald Trump, that Obama is basically a product of affirmative action, undeserving of his Ivy League education), but actually Birtherism and its various offshoots, however convincingly refuted, aren't going anywhere.

James Fallows explains why: "[Tuesday], about half of all Republicans thought Obama was foreign born, and therefore an illegal occupant of the White House. How many Republicans will think the same thing one week from now? My guess is: about half. We've reached that stage on just about everything. It's probably been true of human beings throughout time, but is more obviously significant in politics now, that generally people don't act like scientific investigators, or judges in moot-court competitions, when parsing the logic and evidence behind competing arguments to come up with political views. They go on loyalty, and tradition, and hope, and fear, and self-interest, and generosity, and all the rest."

Quite true, but I think Fallows is too generous, and too universal in applying his theory. While I acknowledge that ignorance, willful or otherwise, has been a facet of the human condition forever, or almost forever, this isn't so much about "human beings throughout time" as it is about the current state of one of America's two dominant political parties, a party that to a great extent has rejected science in favour of a far-right ideology, mixed with a similarly far-right theology, that wants nothing to do with "logic and evidence" and everything to do with trickle-down economics and "Intelligent Design." Yes, much of this has to do with loyalty, tradition, fear, self-interest, etc., but a lot of it has to do with sheer madness -- and, as I have remarked a number of times, what I find to be one of the defining aspects of our time, politically speaking, is the Republican Party's descent into madness, or rather its ongoing descent into ever deeper levels of madness.

Many Republicans, needless to say, still aren't convinced. Some of them are crazies like Leo Berman, but the issue, in one form or another, will be kept alive by more mainstream Republicans like Trump, Newt Gingrich, and everyone else who, sincerely or not, is trying to appeal to the grassroots base of the party. And of course it will be kept alive on Fox News, on talk radio, and throughout Frum's "conservative movement."

It's ignorance, it's racism, it's madness. And the facts don't matter one bit.

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