THE BLOG
08/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mainstreaming The Fringe: Lou Dobbs Fuels Birther Bonfire

There's more to this story than Dobbs. And the phenomenon in play isn't just about a birth certificate. And it's also not isolated or accidental.

Because, yes, viewed in a vacuum, the movement seems like the nutty fringe. But viewed in a larger historical context, birthers share obvious ties to traditional right-wing assaults on previous Democrats, and birthers have all the marks of a GOP Noise Machine creation. The movement is about a larger, more sinister attempt to paint Obama as illegitimate, foreign, and suspect (i.e. not like you and me). To portray him as "a gratuitous interloper," as radio host G. Gordon Liddy put it. As someone who isn't who he says he is. As -- let's face it -- the Manchurian Candidate, with all the evil connotations that come with it.

And it's about the disturbing role media figures like Dobbs play when they act as the bridge -- as the transmitter -- between the radical and the mainstream. When they legitimize the craziness, if only in the eyes of the crazies themselves. As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted this week, "The home run for conspiracists of any stripe is when their ideas can leave the lunatic fringe and enter the mainstream."

Fox News has been doing that practically since Inauguration Day, as its hosts have mainstreamed a violent brand of militia rhetoric, beseeching viewers to take to the streets against the new president, who is committed to (purposefully!) destroying the country while robbing Americans of their cherished rights. Fox News has served as a clearinghouse and given radicals a way to interact with everyday viewers.

The birther attack is simply a parallel attempt to delegitimize Obama. Because once a public figure has been delegitimized, if only in the eyes of his critics, then all bets are off and the normal rules of conduct are discarded. We saw that play out during the Clinton years, with the immediate right-wing push to paint his presidency as being illegitimate (He won only 43 percent of the vote!), which then morphed into darker conspiracies (see: Vince Foster). And soon, it wasn't Clinton's politics or policies that attracted the venom, it was the man himself. He was untrustworthy. He wasn't morally grounded. He was a monster who had to be removed from office.

The same assault is being waged in the conservative media with deeply personal attacks against Obama. (He's a Marxist!) Fox News has been willingly dumping that toxic stew into the mainstream for months. And now on CNN, Dobbs is busy mainstreaming a distinct brand of hate and contempt by embracing the birther nonsense.

Read the entire Media Matters column here.