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Birthing pinheads

BY WILL MATTESSICH | APRIL 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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President Barack Obama calls it “silliness,” and he’s right.

But being right is not important to the so-called “birther” movement, which claims that Obama’s birth certificate is a fake, Obama was born in a foreign country, and thus he is ineligible for the Oval Office.

Despite Wednesday’s release of the long-form birth certificate, the movement questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s candidacy is far from over, although it may now assume a different form. The goal of the birthers is to undermine the president’s right to be in office, not to uncover any ultimate truth; they will not be stopped by a pesky thing such as evidence.

“Concerned” questions about Obama’s birth were raised during the 2008 election and continued to pick up steam throughout Obama’s first years in office. Even after the president released to the public his certificate of live birth, the rumors failed to dissipate.

If you think that this movement was rational in any way, consider the scenario the birthers were proposing: Obama, while a U.S. senator from Chicago, organized a conspiracy with the Hawaii Department of Health to release a fake certification of live birth. Once elected president, Obama persuaded the head of the Department of Health to lie about seeing his documents. He also managed to maintain the cover-up throughout his campaign and presidency — and the Democratic Party ran an ineligible candidate for the White House either as knowledgeable co-conspirators or as dupes.

Regardless of how ridiculous these claims are, GOP leaders have been content to allow the movement to flourish until now. Even Republicans who denied the veracity of the birthers’ claims still gave no strong condemnation.

Here in Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said earlier this year that she “takes the president at his word that he was born in the United States.” While a good shift from her previous, I’ve-just-got-questions stance, why does Bachmann need to “take the president at his word?” Why couldn’t she accept the certificate provided by the Hawaii Department of Health? This calculated statement provides a half-denial of the conspiracy claims that keeps Bachmann looking legitimate while also failing to condemn the notion.

Former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty employed the same tactic when he stated he “thinks” President Obama was born in the United States. No flat denial of the claims or appeals to reason, just well-designed rhetoric that allows the issue to smolder.

Donald Trump picked up that smoldering fire and gave the issue more volume. Trump is firmly behind the birther movement, and he’s made it clear that the new birth certificate released won’t end his crusade. After the birthers failed to prove a vast conspiracy in Hawaii, the lunacy Trump is now peddling involves a vast conspiracy among two Ivy League schools to accept and graduate a terrible student. Trump is now calling for Obama’s grades at Columbia and Harvard to be released, stating that he “heard Obama wasn’t a good student at Occidental.”

The issue has now begun to lose weight, obviously due in large part to the document released on Wednesday.

Still, failing to distance themselves from this groundless conspiracy theory will ultimately be harmful for the GOP and for the country. Republican candidates in the upcoming Iowa caucuses should make sure they strongly condemn the questions about Obama’s legitimacy and focus on real issues. Trying to capitalize on the birther movement through diluted half-denials will keep the issue in the national spotlight and distract from difficult questions about the budget and foreign policy.

Don’t expect the dedicated birthers to change their behavior. They’ll continue spewing nonsense about Obama’s legitimacy at least until he’s out of office and probably after that.

Their movement is proof that in the political world of the 21st century you don’t need to be right or sincere — you just need to be loud.


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