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James Melton

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Birtherism Will Never, Ever Die -- Get Used to It

Posted: 06/01/2012 12:41 pm

Despite the complete lack of evidence to support their claims, birthers continue to assert that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. When will it stop? It won't. Not ever.

Thanks largely to the efforts of Donald Trump, it is abundantly clear that birtherism has survived the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate roughly 13 months ago. With that out of the way, there is nothing left that can stop it. The birther cause is now destined to join the pantheon of enduring fringe movements like the Flat Earth Society and the folks who insist the moon landings were faked. It is here to stay.

The durable nature of birtherism was not always so obvious. Prior to the release of the long-form certificate, the very nature of their demands seemed to doom the movement to eventual oblivion. In 2010, the birther blog "Expose Obama" summed things up this way: "If you are born in a hospital there are records. It is called a long form birth certificate. Just release it and we go away." It was tempting to believe them.

The website WND.com launched a billboard campaign demanding to see the certificate. Professional conspiracy nut Jerome Corsi wrote numerous articles about the topic and eventually released a book entitled -- what else? -- Where's the Birth Certificate? Entire websites were devoted to the quest for the almighty long form. Everything, it seemed, depended on that one thing.

Once Obama released the document, a lot of Democrats I know expected the birthers to slink away, discredited and humiliated. Some even expected the birthers to apologize en masse. But the slinking away part never happened and neither did the apologies. In retrospect, that should have surprised nobody.

Obama had, after all, released the short-form version of his birth certificate -- the same document most of us have at home and use for things like applying for marriage licenses -- during the 2008 presidential campaign. That seemingly irrefutable piece of evidence only made things worse. It was probably inevitable that the release of the long-form certificate would have the same effect.

Like the short-form document, the long-form birth certificate was subjected immediately to the "expertise" of arm-chair forensic examiners who denounced it on blogs and in numerous online videos as a forgery. The drumbeat of "it's a fake" started slowly and softly, but quickly became louder. It is now the new gospel of the birther cause.

Leading the charge most recently has been Trump, real estate magnate, television personality and Mitt Romney's best-known campaign surrogate and fundraiser. But Trump is far from the only mainstream Republican trying to keep birtherism alive. Right here in Michigan, Pete Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has got has gotten in to the act. Hoekstra says he thinks the U.S. needs to establish a national office to confirm each presidential candidate's eligibility.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett recently demanded evidence from the state of Hawaii showing that the president was born there. Bennett eventually decided to accept the evidence. However, Arizona's Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, remains unconvinced.

To his credit, Romney has stated several times that he does not share The Donald's birther obsession. But, then again, Mitt also has not repudiated Trump's support and has been willing to appear on the same stage as Trump. Whether or not that constitutes a wink and a nod to the birthers is up to you.

Furthermore, the birthers have put new energy into obtaining something that previously had been a marginal part of their fixation: Obama's college transcripts.

This will, really and truly, never end. That's because birtherism, like any good conspiracy theory, feeds on the information intended to kill it. Any new evidence is immediately attacked as fraudulent, incomplete, or both. It leads to calls for even more proof which, again, will never measure up. Like The Dark Side, such arguments can be so seductive that even educated people who ought to know better are drawn in. The rank-and-file tinfoil hat crowd doesn't stand a chance.

Because of that, I expect birtherism to be at least as powerful in the 2012 campaign as it was in 2008. On the Internet, in bookstores, and in the minds of the birther faithful, it will live on long after President Obama leaves office.

Exhibit A: "Expose Obama" -- that blog that promised birtherism would "go away" once the long-form birth certificate was released -- was still feeding the birther beast as of May 29.

 

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