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The GOP's Birthers Con Game

08/01/2009 04:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Republicans have a nice little con game going with the birthers. Here's GOP Chairman Michael Steele speaking recently. "The birthers are an unnecessary distraction." Steele blasted the birthers for giving the Democrats a brush to paint the GOP as a bunch of conspiracy driven wackos. Steele admonished the birthers to get over it and hit Obama hard on health care, the economy, the deficit; in other words to pound him on the issues that count. The problem with this is that it took Steele months to finally purse his lips to gingerly rap the birthers, and even then he delivered his criticism in a statement.

This was especially odd since the loquacious Steele has never had a problem spouting his cracks, digs, and half baked opinions in front of the cameras and the radio mics. It's hardly accidental that Steele would low key his much delayed criticism of the birthers.

The birthers have been signed, sealed and delivered by the GOP, and with good reason, they serve a purpose. The instant it became apparent that candidate Obama was a bona fide presidential candidate and that he would make health care, economic recovery, and a shift toward diplomacy away from the bombs, guns and bullying of the Bush administration in foreign policy, the first alarm bells and whistles sounded among many Republicans.

The whispers and gossip that Obama had been born somewhere other than on American soil had long been floating around but they were fanned almost exclusively by far out fringe bloggers. When Obama swept Democratic Party primary after primary and it looked like he would be the party's presidential nominee, the bells and whistles among Republicans sounded louder. When the economy collapsed and Republican GOP rival John McCain fumbled and bumbled through the general election, and Obama looked like the sure winner, the alarm bells and whistles went off the decibel chart. The birthers suddenly looked like a useful tool to create media and public havoc and provide the perfect distraction to peck and nag at Obama.

The GOP quickly discovered another little gem about the birthers. Though they are ridiculed as crackpots, their lawsuits have been summarily tossed out by the courts, including the Supreme Court, and the supposed fraudulent Obama birth certificate has been thoroughly debunked, the viral stealth campaign to muddy Obama has gotten longer legs, so long that millions now actually believe that Obama is not an American citizen. A survey by Research 2000 found that more than half of Republicans either think that Obama was born somewhere other than in the US, or have doubts about his actual birthplace.

This proves two things. Far from being an isolated, on the edge movement, the birthers have planted deep a paranoid conspiracy seed about Obama's legitimate right to sit in the White House among a wide body of Americans. It also shows that the birthers won't go quietly go away. In fact, the last thing that Steele and other GOP top cats want is for them to go away. The more the media slams them, the more Democrats lampoon them, and the more respected GOP luminaries denounce them, this serves only to stir more internet chatter and right wing talk show gab that Obama may not be a true blue American.

The attacks from the mainstream media and politicians have managed to do what the GOP in its wildest dreams never believed could happen when it tacitly gave a wink and nod to the pseudo birth certificate issue. It has bestowed a kind of perverse legitimacy on the birthers. The mere mention of Obama's birth certificate will get talk show phones ringing off the hook, has gotten front page play in all the newspapers, and has been endlessly hashed out on TV talk shows. Democratic leaning groups have made a crusade complete with ads on CNN and other top media outlets hammering CNN's Lou Dobbs, and by extension CNN for continuing to fan the controversy.

President Obama wisely stayed mum on the issue through the campaign and in the first months in the White House. He was determined not give any ammunition to his nutty tormentors. However, the recent very public effort by the White House to douse the birth certificate fire was probably a mistake. It will only toss more fuel on the fire. By simply acknowledging the controversy, the administration put a perverse official imprimatur on it. The survey that showed that many think Obama is an illegal is alarming evidence of that.

This is a huge victory for the birthers and their stealth GOP handlers. The birther movement has come in out of the fringe cold and now is a issue that's safe and acceptable to discuss in polite company. A tepid statement from Steele putting down the birthers is part of the GOP con game.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com