The lesson we learn from Birtherism

April 29, 2011 | By | 12 Replies More

This insightful passage was published by Think Progress:

HOW DID WE GET HERE: If the endurance of the birther myth teaches us anything, it’s the power of repetition. Any claim, no matter how outrageous, can take hold over time if it gets enough media exposure. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that nearly 25 percent of Americans, and 45 percent of Republicans, believed Mr. Obama was born in another country. The shocking fact that a quarter of all Americans now believe the lie — and an additional 18 percent say they don’t know where he was born — illustrates just how successful birther conspiracists have been at sowing doubt and attracting attention from mainstream news outlets.

Epilogue: This episode on Birtherism also demonstrates the power of a vigorous and self-critical media to advance the public good. I will adhere to one of my personal articles of faith: That most people will think in admirable ways and act decently if given accurate information and if treated with at least a modicum of respect by their leaders.


Category: American Culture, ignorance, Media, Orwellian, Propaganda

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (12)

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  1. dave says:

    I was thinking something a little differently on this. Yes, Goebbels taught us that repetition invokes truth in the masses, but I think this is something a little different: the birth certificate is simple icon substitution. I think that many people who say they are "birthers" are simply anti-Obama, and this provides an easy icon around which to rally their hatred. There was some comments on NPR yesterday, and someone from South Carolina or somewhere said that many of his friends knew it was a bogus issue, but they clung to it just the same as a unifying flag of protest.

    On some level, Trump is probably aware of this. Yes, he's an idiot, but he's also fairly media savvy and iconoclast. He knows that invoking the birth certificate issue is him essentially grabbing that flag of opposition. He's actually taking it from Sarah Palin's inept hands. There will always be someone in opposition. The textual saturation and media over-coverage requires that person in the opposite pole position to be outrageous, bombastic, and extreme. I'm not letting trump off the hook– I hate the man and think he's an oaf– but he does seem to be playing this fairly well. The football is now loose on the field (Obama put it in play yesterday). Trump doesn't need to actually get the football, he just needs to keep the anarchy going. The mass media will take care of that for him now. As much as the networks want to put themselves in "meta-coverage" mode (covering the coverage of the controversy, not the actual issue), the networks are still devoting air-time to it. In Trump's eyes, mission accomplished.

    For a solution, I think the Simpson's actually came up with a viable solution: Just Don't Look.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Dave: I think you're onto something important. The Birther position is a badge or a flag that serves as a token for dislike of Obama. Just like I can express like or love of someone with a bouquet of flowers, I can express dislike of Obama by claiming that there is a reason to wonder whether Obama was born in the United States.

      I agree with you that Trump is making effective use of this. He will go down a notch or two in the minds of some independents for taking the birther position, but his words in support of the birther position serves as red meat to the conservative masses. This devilish deal will probably be a great one for Trump, who (in my opinion) has no doubt that Obama was born in the United States.

  2. Karl says:

    Birthers for the most part have not been concerned about "where" Barack Hussein Obama II was born. The concern has been from the start as to what the term “natural born citizen” means and if Barack Hussein Obama II meets the criterion. It requires more than simply being an “American Citizen” to become President of the United States.

    Historically the term “natural born citizen” has meant being born to two parents that were both citizens of the same said nation themselves.

    Most have little doubt about who his mother was. Stanley Ann Durham fills the bill for Barack Hussein Obama II having only one parent that was an American Citizen.

    There are some who have doubts about the legal status of the name used by (Stanley) Ann Durham "Obama."

    It does also appear that Barack Hussein Obama , the sited father of Barack Hussein Obama II, was not "legally" married to (Stanley) Ann Durham.

    It appears from the information on the released long form that Stanley Ann Durham sites Barack Hussein Obama as the father of her child. This therefore can also not be verified, but can be taken at face value as the statement of the mother.

    This leaves the matter in the hands of Congress or some other legal court proceeding. Will someone tell us if a young girl of 17 being impregnated by a bigamist of age 24-25, who was a subject of the British Empire can result in a child being a “natural born citizen?”

    Just as an aside,

    A forensic analysis of the form presented as his long form birth certificate had better find other original forms from the same serial lots with a fetish for centering the text or there will have to be some explaining to do as far as I see it.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Karl: No discussion of birtherism would be complete without you showing up to clarify the test and to proclaim that Barack Obama has failed the test.

  3. Karl says:

    Never said Barack Hussein Obama II failed the test. He appears to not want to take the test, or even discuss taking the test, because to do so might clarify if the test really means anything or not.

    Why might a mother not want to have a paternity test? Simply because it might prove something that might have been uncertain as now being known true or untrue.

    I just want somebody to take off the kid gloves and treat the matter with clarity and stop avoiding the real issue.

    American ideals are no longer clear because historical American values are no longer attached to its leaders, and its leaders do not wish to address the matter.

  4. Karl,

    Using your arguments above, this is still all pointless. His mother was without question an American citizen. Age doesn't enter into it. If she was in fact not married to the father, then there is no question that her child is fully an American citizen, "natural born", as no questions of switching national loyalties is involved at all. I seriously doubt anyone really gives a shit where the sperm came from.

    Once again—this is absurd.

  5. Karl says:

    If it only matter where one of the two "gametes" came from then why should it matter where the child was born or not born? Can the children of service men born to american or foreign women be declared natural born citizens because the father contributed one half of the formulation?

    Congress had no problem accepting John McCain as a natural born citizen. The definition of a "natural born citizen" seems to have apparently morphed over the years to mean anyone in possession of an American birth certificate of live birth. Just as one can work legally in America with either a valid or invalid social security number or a legal or illegal green card.

    Can illegal aliens have their child born in America and thus endow them with "natural born American citizenship?

    Being born on American soil according to the originators of the Constitution did not endow an individual with the status of a "natural born citizen." Many people were born on American soil for years and even their children were denied the right to vote for many years.

    In the past, one did not declare by personal fiat what the meaning of the Constition was, but today it seems to have become just that.

    There was definitely the intention in the Constitution of the US of having the nurture factors to be more important than the birth certificate, as Brits that had children in America to American women couldn't have had their children run for office.

    Like it or not, there is a "values" or nurture aspect to what it means to be a "natural born American citizen."

  6. Karl writes:—"Birthers for the most part have not been concerned about “where” Barack Hussein Obama II was born. The concern has been from the start as to what the term “natural born citizen” means and if Barack Hussein Obama II meets the criterion."

    The Birthers from the beginning have been concerned with demonstrating and convincing the rest of us that Obama is in some sense "illegitimate." They do not wish him to be president and they will use any avenue to show that he is not eligible. Where he was born, to whom, and under what circumstances matter naught. No matter what evidence is produced to show that he is perfectly acceptable to be president, they will not allow it, because he is not "their" president. He cannot demonstrate to their satisfaction that he is not what they hold chiefly against him—that he is black, he has a funny name, he is an intellectual, and a perceived liberal. They can't come out and say any of that, because none of it is valid to disqualify him—so they attack the circumstances of his existence.

    This is a country of laws but it has been being dragged away from that standard for thirty years now by people who believe "essence" should trump law. They feel that if the law allow something which they find essentially wrong, then the law should be discarded or gone around and the "truth" should hold sway. This entire Birther program is a demonstration of that. This has been a horrible waste of public time and patience and an erosion of necessary confidence. It is not Obama's fault that some people find him unacceptable as president—these are the same sorts of minds that think our laws are based on the ten commandments and that God wrote the Constitution, that what white conservatives think is best for the country ought to be accepted without qualification, the law be damned. This is the same mindset that clings to the grassy knoll, the sins of liberal media, MJ-12, and Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

    I try hard not to be categorically judgmental, but in this case, in my opinion, it's warranted—these are bitter, frustrated, small-minded people of obsessive habits and limited intelligence. Of all the things that could benefit from such sustained attention in this country and world, to fritter away time and attention on this crap is obscene. In short, the Birthers are as a group stupid and we are fools for allowing them to divert us with this errant bullshit.

  7. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Personally, I think the Birthers are in denial of their own racism and adopt the birther argument out of ignorance of the law as a way to rationalize their disgust at having an biracial POTUS.

    It is just as silly as hating milk chocolate and chocolate milk cause it taint natural to mix some up like that.

    I remember a few years back, when Governator Ahnold was really popular among the Republicans, the GOP tried to change the constitution to allow naturalized citizens to hold the office of President.

    McCains birth in Panama was enough to lose him the nomination against G.W. Bush, but it clarified several things, so eventually McCain was deemed acceptable as a candidate.

    In Obama's case, however, the argument keeps changing with every show of the proof requested, and only those who are truly racist seem intent on clinging to this fantasy.

    If Obama was instead O'Bama, With an Irish-born father and a white American Mother, It wouldn't be a serious issue,.

  8. Tim Hogan says:

    I think Donald Trump needs to disclose his independent sanity certificate, otherwise how will we know whether he's insane?

    I'm not saying Trump is insane but, if he cannot prove his sanity by reliable independent means, what are we to think?

    Maybe, Mr. Trump will let some reliable independent psychiatrist test him to see if he's sane? If not, it would likely be because Mr. Trump fears the results of such testing, eh?

    What is Donald Trump hiding by not taking a sanity test?

    If Mr. Trump produces his own documents, we'll know they're false because there's no such thing as a sanity clause!

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