THE BLOG
10/26/2011 04:55 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2011

Perry's 'Flirting with Birtherism.' Leonard Pitts Was Right

A few months ago, I commented on a piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts at the Miami Herald calling birthers "morons,'' ''jackasses," "imbeciles," "idiots,'' "doofuses" and "pinheads."

He also called the birther movement "not just claptrap, but profoundly racist claptrap."

I said, "While I agree with Pitts on the claptrap, I would not call the birthers morons, imbeciles, idiots, etc. I believe that these people, especially the founders and leaders of this 'movement,' are extremely intelligent, capable and resourceful," and gave some examples to back my claim up:

How else would a movement that started in mid-2008, following Obama's win in the Democratic primaries be able to convince, a mere two years later, 20 percent of all Americans and 30 percent of Tea Partiers into believing that the president was not born in the United States?

How else would people such as Andy Martin (known as "King of the Birthers"), Jerome Corsi (of John Kerry swift-boating fame), Alan Keyes, Orly Taitz, etc., be able to convince a majority (51 percent) of likely Republican presidential primary voters that the president was born in another country? (2011 survey from Public Policy Polling)

How else could this movement attract reputable and intelligent Republican Party leaders, notables and pundits such as Senator Richard Shelby, Tracey Mann, Liz Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, Camille Paglia and others to grant the movement legitimacy, to defend the birthers or at a minimum to humor these conspiracy-minded people?

I also said:

How else would potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates such as Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and -- more recently -- Donald Trump "wink" at the birthers, play coy, demur or dodge the issue; allude to the President's "Kenyan roots and connections," but never categorically discredit the birther movement?

This was April 2011, when Palin, Huckabee, Bachmann, Gingrich and Trump were the GOP flavors of the week.

Well, six months later, we have different flavors of the week. This time, Romney, Cain, Perry, Ron Paul, etc.

And yes, we again have one of these flavors of the week (In this case it may be the flavor of the month) acting like someone Pitts would call a "moron,'' ''jackass," "doofus" or "pinhead." This time it is Rick Perry, "flirting with birtherism"-- not once but twice in the last couple of days.

I would like to say that Rick Perry, while a doofus and pinhead on many other issues, knows exactly what he is doing on this one.

But why would the Texas Governor bring up the issue of the President's citizenship, an issue that most Americans thought had been settled -- discredited?

Although Perry claims that he just wants to have some fun, to "poke" at Obama, others think differently.

The Washington Post has some ideas on this.

One of them is that the tough Texan wants to show that he is "someone willing to stand up to [Obama] aggressively and on all fronts." In other words, that he is not "all hat and no cattle," as some -- including this writer --have claimed.

However, as the Post reports, things have changed recently:

From a purely political perspective, the issue is a stone cold loser. In April 2010, roughly one in three Republicans said President Obama was born outside of the United States in a Washington Post poll. By April 2011, that number had dipped to just 14 percent. Those numbers were far lower among independents and Democrats.

And it is exactly such a change in the electorate's attitude that has Republicans scratching their heads at Perry.

Again, the Post:

Perry's willingness to engage in talk of birtherism is not without risk, however. While it may send a signal to the Republican base that Perry isn't afraid to stand up to Obama, it also has the potential to serve as a major-league distraction for a candidate who badly needs to some message-sharpening.

On a day when Perry is hoping that the bulk of the media coverage will focus on his flat tax proposal, which he previewed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed and his interview with Harwood, his mention of birtherism will likely take away some -- if not most -- of the attention from his economic plan.

Perry's flirtation with birtherism will also likely raise the hackles of some in the GOP party establishment (read: donors) who already harbor doubts about his readiness to represent the party against Obama next fall.

Well, perhaps I am finally ready to agree with Pitts on the "moron,'' ''jackass," "doofus" and "pinhead" bit.