Forms of Madness

One of the very good local talk radio shows invited me to be on this morning to debate a “birther” on whether those who argue that Barack Obama is not a citizen, and therefore is ineligible to be President, should give it up. I do think they should give it up, but I haven’t studied the issue closely and won’t debate anything I haven’t studied, so I declined the invitation.
It did get me thinking, though, about conspiracy theories in contemporary politics. The “birthers” are named after the “truthers,” who believe that the World Trade Center wasn’t knocked down by Islamic terrorists, but rather was blown up by President Bush, or Donald Rumsfeld, or the CIA, or someone. There are an astonishing number of “truthers” out there, including Minnesota’s ex-Governor Jesse Ventura. The “truthers” made news here in Minnesota earlier this week, as Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson explained why he won’t hold a town hall on health care by saying, “Twenty-five percent of my people believe the Pentagon and Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the Twin Towers down.” He doesn’t want to hear from his constituents because they’re nuts, in other words. I don’t know about the 25% figure–Peterson wasn’t being literal–but it could possibly be low. “Trutherism” is remarkably common among Democrats.
Trutherism is insane on its face. The idea that any President or Secretary of Defense, Republican or Democratic, would or could carry out such a plot is crazy, as is the idea that such a vast conspiracy could be kept secret for years. Nor have I ever understood what role the Islamic terrorists and their hundreds of victims on the two hijacked airplanes played in the incident, according to the truthers. Maybe their presence on the scene was coincidental, like, for Leibniz, the smoke that rises from a burning cigar. (That’s unfair to the philosopher, of course.)
Birtherism is nowhere near as crazy as trutherism. It isn’t absurd to imagine that a politician who had one American and one non-American parent could learn, perhaps as an adult, that he was born abroad and therefore not a citizen after all, and try to cover up the fact. (I was surprised to learn, when I looked at the issue briefly during the campaign, that the law governing citizenship in these circumstances has changed over the years.) But there isn’t any evidence that this is the case as to Obama, and a hospital in Honolulu has a birth certificate with his name and birth date on it. There is no point in scrutinizing the birth certificate with a microscope. It’s over. Moreover, it’s too late: any birther who seriously thinks that President Obama will someday be marched out of the White House by policemen, the *real* circumstances of his birth having been revealed, is as crazy as a truther.
So, birthers, give it a rest. Focus on President Obama’s ideological errors and his many policy blunders. We conservatives are better than our opponents. Let’s keep it that way.


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