It’s right over there. It’s big and smelly, and it takes up a lot of room. People have been tiptoeing around it for months, pretending it doesn’t exist, but it’s grown too big to ignore. So let’s just walk over and confront it directly. Somebody has to.
Are birthers simply racists by another name?
Lots of people think so, and a few aren’t even afraid to say so out loud. But are they right?
On Wednesday morning, April 27, President Barack Obama requested Hawaii to release two certified copies of his long-form birth certificate. Will this end the controversy? Probably not. The new document is already being dismissed in right-wing circles as a fraud and a forgery. Donald Trump said, moments after the certificate’s release, “We have to look at it. Experts have to examine it. I hope it’s genuine.”
And so it goes.
To date, so-called “birther laws” have failed or been tabled in five state legislatures, and are still actively being debated in half a dozen others. But Oklahoma may be the first state to actually pass a law making it a requirement for every state employee from dogcatcher on up to produce a birth certificate as evidence of qualification for employment. Oddly, nobody has never worried about such a requirement in the past, but now it seems to have acquired a real urgency. I think we all know who was the real target of this bill. (Hint: it’s not the dogcatcher.) Assistant Democratic floor leader in the House, Al McAffrey, says the bill is an embarrassment. “But this is Oklahoma—we embarrass ourselves all the time,” he adds.
Indeed, many people find such bills ridiculous, a fact that is not lost on writers like this one (and there are thousands of them around the Internet) who have trumpeted that the danger to the Republic from an “imposter” like Barack Obama is so grave that patriotic state legislatures must bravely face down the ridicule in order to protect the Constitution:
The only way to combat the media ridicule, and to inject some steel into the backbone of politicians is through a massive outpouring of public support for “birther laws.” If our representatives know we are behind them, they will have the fortitude to face down media ridicule because they have the confidence from knowing they are representing the will of the people.
That doesn’t sound like racism, does it? It all just sounds really noble and patriotic. So why has this issue been giving fits to Republican thinkers, leaders and strategists? Michael Bloomberg recently said that if Republicans didn’t let go of birtherism and concentrate on “real issues” they would lose big in 2012…and they would deserve it. Jan Brewer, darling of the anti-immigration right, shocked and enraged her loyal followers by refusing to sign Arizona’s birther law when it reached her desk. Brewer called the bill “a bridge too far” and went on to cause audible gasps in the audience by stating flatly that birtherism is “leading America down a path of destruction.” That’s pretty strong language, even from a lady not known for mincing words. Karl Rove was so alarmed by the birther controversy that he called it a “White House strategy.” Rove actually believed this was a clever trap being laid and baited by the Obama team to enmesh the GOP in a sticky net they will never be able to escape.
Rove was probably wrong about this trap being laid by the White House…but he was certainly right about the damage, which will now be widespread. The whole ugly thing has exploded in their faces, leaving them without their signature campaign issue and motivating force, looking at two squandered years when they could have been dealing with real issues. They look clownish, bullying, mean-spirited and, yes, openly racist. Those smart Republican leaders come from various wings of the party, but none of them ever saw birtherism as noble and patriotic. They all saw it is a serious threat to the future of their party, because they were able to recognize it for what it is…pure, ugly racism, the kind that believes a black man cannot possibly be a legitimate president. Birtherism has always posed a unique danger to the GOP because it was recognized for what it really is by the millions of voters who do not have racist leanings. And it has now divided the GOP as no other issue has ever done. Most Republican politicians have been forced to take a stand on the birther issue, and their equivocal and careful answers will now be fraught with peril going forward. Because birtherism is not just a matter of ideology like taxes or spending or entitlements. It’s also deeply emotional, and the emotion that it springs from is fear. All racism is based on fear…of the Other, of the unknown, of being overtaken and invaded and subsumed by the unfamiliar and threatening.
I posed a question many months ago, but nobody was ready at that point to confront the elephant in the room. We have now reached the point where we can no longer ignore this issue, so I repeat my question for your consideration. Use your imagination to picture this. Imagine that Barack Obama’s life story was identical in almost every way to the one we know. A father who was a college student from Africa, a young mother with free-thinking political ideas, a disorganized and scattered childhood spanning a couple of continents and several households…but visualize that childhood with one slight difference.
Instead of the child’s father being Barack Obama, a black man from a Kenyan village, he was red-headed Barry O’Bama, son of Irish potato farmers.
In that case, would there still have been a birther movement?
- Jan Brewer: Birtherism is leading America “down a path of destruction” (hotair.com)
- The NYT calls the “birther” issue “a baseless attack with heavy racial undertones.” (althouse.blogspot.com)
- Releasing birth certificate is a good move (dailykos.com)
- Trump forces GOP to take sides on birther conspiracy (thegrio.com)
- The Birth Certificate Is Here (trueconservatism115.wordpress.com)
- Republicans scramble to distrance themselves from birthers (capitolhillblue.com)
- Jan Brewer: Birther Issue Leading Country ‘Down A Path Of Destruction’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Conservative ‘Birther’ Issue Is All About Racism (dekerivers.wordpress.com)