Monday, March 28, 2011

Does Obama's Race Explain Why Republicans are now a MAJORITY Birther Party?

After 9/11, you might recall that a few sparsely populated factions of conspiracy theorists known as "Truthers" began to pop up here or there with an ultimately unsuccessful (and in most instances laughable) attempt to persuade the American public that the 9/11 tragedy had inside support from the U.S. government and, in particular, from President Bush.  As mentioned, the movement was largely seen as un-American and denounced by both Democrats and Republicans alike.  Van Jones, one of Obama's former advisers, was promptly fired by the Obama Administration when his signature surfaced on a 2004 petition about the Truther movement, even though he publicly denounced the theory.  When Ahmadinejad went on his Truther rant at the U.N. in 2010 the United States delegation, comprised mostly of Democrats, immediately stood up and walked out.  Indeed, the Democratic leadership, by and large, denounced the very notion that Bush had anything to do with the fall of the twin towers.  Given the strong anti-Bush sentiment felt both domestically and around the globe, it would have been politically expedient - although very dangerous - for the Democrats to start circulating talking points linking Bush to 9/11.  But the Democratic leadership did the right thing and publicly condemned the notion.  Unfortunately, their colleagues on the other side of the aisle seem to have difficulty reciprocating the same gesture.

A recent poll was conducted that shows that now, in 2011, 51% of Republican primary voters believe that President Obama was not born in the United States (thereby making him ineligible to be President), despite Obama's public release of his Hawaiian birth certificate, the State of Hawaii confirming the authenticity of said birth certificate, and the publication of Obama's birth in not one but two separate Hawaiian newspapers which unequivocally proves that he was, in fact, born in the U.S. of A.

With all of this evidence and empirical data pointing in one direction, one would think this would be a no-brainer for any Republicans - especially those in the leadership - who are asked whether Obama is an American citizen.  However, as conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks recently noted on HBO's Realtime with Bill Maher:
"There is a problem with the Republican leadership right now, and I've seen Republican after Republican do this.  They'll say 'I personally believe that Barack Obama was born in this country, but it's up to other people to believe what they want.'  Which is just a sort of cowardly way out of this thing.  They should just say 'Barack Obama was born in this country.' End of story."
And Brooks is right. We have seen many Republicans, such as Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who, instead of outright denouncing how utterly ridiculous the Birther notion is, say things like: "it's not my job to tell the American people what to think. The American people have the right to think what they want to think."  Michele Bachmann has also taken pleasure in towing the Birther line.  And although not an elected Republican official (thank God), just the other day Donald Trump went on The View and flat out accused Obama of hiding his true nationality.  So much for reciprocity.

Given their constituency's recalcitrant insistence that Obama is not an American citizen, it is transparent to see why the Republican leadership prefers to stoke the flames of this conspiracy theory rather than publicly denouncing it; to do so would be to risk the loss of votes.  The true question is why the constituents themselves still feel the need to keep this conspiracy theory going three years later despite all the evidence to the contrary.

 Bill Maher offered one possible explanation to his panel last Friday:

“If 51 percent think he was not born in America, I don’t know where else that is coming from except race. What more could [Obama] do to be the perfect family man?…There is nothing about this man that is un-American, except, to them, his color. I gotta think it’s coming from that place.”
Now of course, in America we like to believe that we are post-racial and thus whenever anybody injects racism into a political conversation that person is frowned upon.  So naturally, Bill Maher will catch a strong amount of backlash from those who like to think that race has nothing to do with our politics anymore (or anything else for that matter).  Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, one need only but to look around America for 5 minutes to find more than enough evidence that racism is very much alive and well in our country in 2011.  Although it is true that race plays a significantly lesser role today than, say, in the 1960's, it still has a seat at the table of America's unresolved problems.

That being said, I'm not entirely convinced that race and race alone is the only factor that can explain the filth that is the Birther theory.  In short, I think it is a mix of (i) racism, (ii) Islamophobia, and (iii) anti-immigrant sentiment. Let's face it, Obama has a name and background that is considered "exotic" to many middle-western and southern Whites ("exotic" being code for "un-American").  If his name was, for example, Jesse Jackson, then even if he were Black there would be less of an issue here for people to latch on to who succumb to the close-minded mentality that only names like "Bob," "Sue," or "John" can be "American."  That's not to say that Obama's race is not a factor (of course it is), but in this instance it seems to serve more as the threshold issue that triggers the initial observation that he's somehow "different" from "us."  It is only after that initial thought of "difference" enters the biased observer's mind that they then begin the apply their additional prejudices that they reserve towards Muslims and immigrants (ironically, Obama is neither).

Then again, I could be wrong. Given the overwhelming pressure to appear politically correct in our society today, this anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric that is frequently used among the Birther movement might actually be today's socially acceptable language for Birthers who don't have the moxie to use the word they really mean: "nigger."

Does Obama's Race explain why Republicans are now a majority Birther party?
If you feel that it's not his Race, then what is it, exactly, that is keeping the Birther movement going?
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