Wednesday, April 27, 2011


In a righteous, exasperated rant about birtherism, James Fallows writes:

Yesterday, about half of all Republicans thought Obama was foreign born, and therefore an illegal occupant of the White House. How many Republicans will think the same thing one week from now? My guess is: about half. We've reached that stage on just about everything. It's probably been true of human beings throughout time, but is more obviously significant in politics now, that generally people don't act like scientific investigators, or judges in moot-court competitions, when parsing the logic and evidence behind competing arguments to come up with political views. They go on loyalty, and tradition, and hope, and fear, and self-interest, and generosity, and all the rest....

Here we have a wonderful real-world test: if "actual knowledge" mattered, the number of people who thought Obama was foreign-born would approach zero by next week -- with exceptions for illiterates, the mentally disabled, paranoid schizophrenics, etc. My guess is that the figures will barely change.

And yet, elsewhere in the rant (in a passage added after it was published), Fallows says this about Donald Trump's insinuation that Barack Obama was an undeserving affirmative-action Ivy Leaguer:

First, whatever is wrong with Obama, no sane person thinks he's stupid.

But -- as is obvious to anyone who lurks in the right-wing fever swamps -- a lot of people who seem sane (if ignorant, narrow-minded, and hate-filled) think Barack Obama is stupid. They think he's incapable of intelligent thought when he's not reading off a Teleprompter -- and no amount of actual footage of Obama thinking quite well on his feet, and offering opinions that are well thought out, can persuade them otherwise.

My point is that just about every belief angry right-wingers have about Obama is now developed and sustained in the same way as birtherism: namely, through scant evidence and a lot of quasi-religious faith (religious in the sense that it's part of a belief system that posits Obama as the Devil). Yes, the birthers are going to move on to other conspiracy theories (where are the college transcripts? what's Obama hiding?), but in a way it doesn't matter -- the beliefs about Obama that aren't considered to be conspiracy theories really are conspiracy theories. He's a socialist! He's deliberately trying to destroy capitalism! He wants to make Americans increasingly dependent on government! He hates this country and has excessive sympathy for our enemies! He's a hardcore Alinskyite! He's a Chicago thug! And, yes: he's a Teleprompter-dependent dimwit!

"Mainstream" Republicans mostly gave birtherism a wide berth -- but everything I just listed has been proposed in all seriousness by folks like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty and Marco Rubio (Rubio once critized Obama's use of the Teleprompter while reading from a Teleprompter.)

So, yeah, birtherism took a body blow today, but anti-Obama conspiratorialism will never die, because it's thoroughly mainstream.

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