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Return of the Birthers | The Nation

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Ben Adler

Ben Adler

 The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.

Return of the Birthers

Like political kudzu, no matter how many times they have been destroyed, birthers keep coming back. The last week has seen a sudden re-emergence of the once-marginalized racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic notion that President Obama was not born in Hawaii. And the Republican presidential nominee is cozying up to leading birthers such as Donald Trump.

Obama’s natural-born American citizenship has been amply documented by the release of both his short- and long-form birth certificates. Researchers have also found historical evidence such as birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers. When Obama released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011, a Gallup poll showed the percentage of Americans who said he was “definitely” or “probably” born in another country dropped from a shockingly high 24 percent to a merely disturbing 13 percent.

But now the birthers are back. One of their main hubs is World Net Daily, a popular website on the conspiracy-minded far right. Through WND Books they have recently published a compendium of discredited and newly invented birther assertions called Where’s The Birth Certificate: The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President, by leading birther Jerome Corsi. On May 17 WND reported that Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who has become famous for his mistreatment of prisoners and his distaste for immigrants, is investigating the president’s citizenship but being met with “stonewalling” from federal authorities. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Cold Case Posse says Selective Service System officials apparently are trying to dissuade the Arizona investigative team from attempting to obtain original documentation to determine whether Barack Obama’s draft registration form is authentic,” wrote WND’s Art Moore.

On the same day Breitbart.com produced the dramatic revelation that a promotional material from 1991 from Obama’s book said he was born in Kenya. The Breitbart editors claimed that they believe Obama was born in Honolulu but that this bizarre little factoid tells us something about Obama’s ideological past.

Other conservatives, such as those at WND, got the hint, though. Rather than making the logical inference that the obscure brochure was incorrect they jumped to the conclusion that this shows Obama was born elsewhere. “The biography is one of numerous published reports as well as personal claims that Obama was born abroad, including the recent testimony of a Chicago-area postal worker who reported he was told by the parents of Bill Ayers that Obama was a foreigner,” writes WND. A postal worker who talked to Bill Ayers parents! Since, as every WND reader knows, Ayers and Obama have been best friends for decades, that’s conclusive, proof, right?

This interpretation conflicts with some basic facts and logic, including the birthers’ own imaginings. For one thing, Obama’s memoir itself is clear that he was born in Hawaii. For another, the ludicrous birther conspiracy theory holds that Obama’s family was busy creating the false impression that he was born in Hawaii at the time he was born, hence the public birth announcement. That can’t be true while it simultaneously is the case that Obama was openly admitting to his publisher’s publicists that he was born in Kenya back in 1991 because he had not yet decided to run for president. On May 21 WND reported that Arpaio’s “cold case posse” is going to Hawaii to investigate.

This may all sound like a big joke. And on some level it is funny. But it could have real implications. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said that he might not put Obama on the state’s presidential ballot in November unless he received evidence of Obama’s birthplace. On May 23, though, Bennett issued a statement saying he was satisfied. “Late yesterday, our office received the ‘verification in-lieu of certified copy’ from officials within the Hawaii Department of Health that we requested in March,” Bennett wrote. “They have officially confirmed that the information in the copy of the Certificate of Live Birth for the President matches the original record in their files.” So Obama will appear on the ballot. But the Republicans’ real agenda is not keeping Obama off the ballots, which they know is impossible, since they know perfectly well where he was born. The point is to create a media kerfuffle that reinforces doubts in voters’ minds about Obama’s American identity.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the reality-television star and washed up real estate tycoon who led Republican presidential polls before deciding to make another season of The Apprentice instead, is helping birtherism gain mainstream media attention and helping Romney raise money. As CNN notes, “The ‘Apprentice’ host has been a vocal proponent of the ‘birther’ conspiracy going back several years, at one point claiming he had ‘investigators’ looking into Obama’s records in Hawaii.”  

Is Romney, supposedly a sane technocrat from the GOP’s mainstream establishment wing, distancing himself from these bigoted clowns? No, of course not. Romney indulges them, as he does most odious elements of the right-wing base. On Thursday the Romney campaign announced that in exchange for a donation, you would be entered in a raffle to win a stay at the Trump International Hotel & Tower New York, a tour of Trump Tower and dinner with Donald Trump and Mitt Romney.

On Tuesday Romney and Trump held a fundraiser together in Las Vegas. But Trump continued to promote his bogus fantasies of Obama’s supposed ineligibility for the presidency. CNN neatly summarized the situation with the headline, “Trump sticks with ‘birther’ argument, Romney sticks with Trump.” CNN reported:

Donald Trump did not back down on Tuesday from his questioning of President Barack Obama’s birthplace, keeping the issue alive on the day he is to fund-raise alongside presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “I’ve never really changed. Nothing’s changed my mind,” he said on CNBC of his skepticism toward Obama’s birthplace. “Is it the most important thing? In a way it is. You’re not allowed to be the president if you’re not born in the country.

As Media Matters noted, CNBC anchor Joe Kernan shamefully helped Trump burnish his claims by lazily citing an Internet hoax as an actual report. He said, “In that same report that was on some of the conservative websites and I haven’t even confirmed it, Donald, but there was a quote from one of [Obama’s] debates when he was running for state senator, I believe, and one of his opponents said, well, you know, you weren’t—this was at the time when it still—the Kenya thing was still on some of his biographies or something and the guy said, ‘Well, you know, you weren’t even born here,’ and he said, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter if I wasn’t born here, I’m running for—I’m not running for president’ at the time.” But, as Media Matters reports, this is simply a figment of someone’s imagination. They write: 

The CNBC anchor appears to be referring to an internet rumor about an exchange that allegedly happened during a 2004 Illinois debate between Alan Keyes and then-state senator Obama during their campaign for the state’s U.S. Senate seat.

However, an adviser to the 2004 Keyes campaign who attended the Keyes-Obama debates told Media Matters that the purported exchange is a “hoax.”

“It’s always been bogus,” said Tom Hoefling, who is now the chairman and presidential candidate for America’s Party, which was founded by Keyes. “It’s been passed around by some crazy sources out there. I’ve tried to put that fire out probably at least a hundred times.… All of the videos of those debates are up online. Show us where it is.”

Trump went on CNN later on Tuesday, where he was grilled with appropriate derision by Wolf Blitzer, and he doubled down on birtherism. Here’s part of the interview

BLITZER: But the state of Hawaii says it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

TRUMP: No, I don’t think so. I think if you look at the birth certificate, take a look and you tell me, really. You analyze the birth certificate. There are many people that don’t agree with that birth certificate. They don’t think it’s authentic, Wolf.

BLITZER: I don’t know when you say many people who don’t agree…

TRUMP: Many people.

BLITZER: Like who?

TRUMP: There are many people…

BLITZER: Give me an—give me a name of somebody…

TRUMP: There are many people…

BLITZER: —in a position of authority…

TRUMP: —that do not believe…

BLITZER: —in Hawaii who says—but give me a name.

TRUMP: There are many people—I don’t give names. There are many people that do not believe that birth certificate is authentic.

BLITZER: Well, you know what…

TRUMP: Many people.

I know many people who say Donald Trump is a liar pathetically trying to keep his name in the news and I’d be happy to provide some balance by going on CNN and CNBC to say so. Trump also contended that Obama’s birth certificate is invalid because the Governor of Hawaii who released it is a Democrat. As Blitzer noted, the governor who approved the release of Obama’s short-form birth certificate during the 2008 campaign was Linda Lingle, a Republican, to which Trump responded, “I know nothing about it.” Truer words were never spoken, at least not by Trump.

Anyone hoping that Romney would show some courage and confront Trump’s lies head on would be disappointed. CNN writes:

Although Romney and Trump are to fundraise in Las Vegas on Tuesday, the candidate on Monday chose not to rebuff Trump’s suggestions. "You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,"Romney told reporters when asked about the issue. "But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."

Even Romney’s nominal disavowals of birtherism contain a cowardly dodge with a wink towards the extremists. Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, wrote in an e-mailed statement to CNN, “Governor Romney has said repeatedly that he believes President Obama was born in the United States.” The key word in that sentence is “believes.” Obama’s birthplace is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of fact. A true disavowal would be, “Romney has said repeatedly that President Obama was born in the United States.” Adding the unnecessary “he believes” qualification is a way of hinting to birthers that this is still a valid question to examine. It is the same trick played by Congressional Republicans who always say they believe Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim, or that Obama has said he is a Christian and they take him at his word.

Of course, some Republicans in Congress are happy to indulge birther fantasies as well. Colorado Representative Mike Coffman recently said at a fundraiser, “I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.”

Remember that the next time someone says that Obama’s inability to work with Republicans in Congress—people who call him “not an American”—is his fault.

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