It is astounding what people will believe simply because they want so desperately to believe it. Or because they have an agenda.
After President George W. Bush’s first debate against John Kerry, a photo from the debate revealed an odd square pattern on the back of his jacket. Obviously, it was just the fabric knotting up into a shape. But within minutes we were fielding calls about allegations that we had secretly taped a transmitter to his back, under his coat, and were feeding him lines into an invisible earpiece.
I wouldn’t give a damn if Obama was born in a cave in Afghanistan.
I joked in my first response, “Well, if that was true, either the device malfunctioned and he couldn’t hear us or we were drunk.” If you recall, Bush didn’t do so well in that debate.
But as absurd as the idea was on its face, the story wouldn’t die. A week later, I got a sheepish call from a close friend who works for the most respected newspaper in the country: “I know this is crazy, but my editors are making me ask.”
And then I responded the only way I could: “There’s not a lot of different ways to say ‘No.’” So, again, “No.”
Now we have the “birthers”: people convinced that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States and, therefore, should not be president.
And not just people—United States senators are wasting their time and ours talking about it. “They have a point,” said Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma. “I don’t discourage it.”
The rationale for the conspiracy is, like all conspiracy theories, dense, complicated, and ridiculous. Although Hawaiian officials have produced a certificate of live birth, the state discarded paper documents in 2001 (well before Obama was even in the U.S. Senate) and, therefore, a long-form birth certificate no longer exists. With this shard of “evidence” of a grand conspiracy to elect a foreigner, the birthers have all they need to keep hope alive that they can somehow deny the presidency to Barack Obama.
There’s much more that isn’t worth repeating, but a couple of observations:
It is not possible to run for president of the United States in these times and maintain some significant secret from your past. Just ask Bush about the DUI that he obviously thought he could keep from becoming public but then surfaced three days before the election and very nearly cost him the presidency. It certainly caused him a recount.
The point is that when you run for president of the United States, your life gets examined microscopically by news organizations that pour enormous resources into investigating your every minute. Not to mention all the opposition research underwritten by opposing campaigns and organizations.
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More fundamentally, so what if he was born somewhere else? If he was, he was teleported to Hawaii in nanoseconds. There is no more an American story than Barack Obama. The rationale for Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution, which bars foreigners from becoming president, was to eliminate the possibility of America’s leader from holding dual or treacherous alliances with other countries. The Founding Fathers wrote this clause into the Constitution in 1789 because of scandal in Europe involving Austrians moving to other countries.
So what would be the legitimate concern about Obama? There isn’t one. All the birthers really care about is clinging to a conspiracy that could deny the presidency to someone they simply don’t like and disagree with politically.
Me? I wouldn’t give a damn if Obama was born in a cave in Afghanistan.
Mark McKinnon is on the Lance Armstrong Foundation Board. As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.