Politics & Policy

Conspiracy, Again

As Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio beclowns himself and his wayward admirers, it is worth bearing in mind that the manufactured controversy surrounding President Barack Obama’s birth certificate has its origins in anonymous e-mails sent by Hillary Clinton partisans during the 2008 Democratic primary. Which is to say that all these many years later, Republicans are still getting played by the Clintons. Some things never change.

There is very little to add to the discussion of the facts of the case. President Obama’s short-form birth certificate (the “certificate of live birth”), which is authoritative evidence in any U.S. court, has long been available for inspection, and the archival records from Hawaii (the “long-form birth certificate”) also have been released. Public officials of both parties have confirmed that the president was born in Hawaii. Every judicial proceeding on the matter has confirmed this, and contemporaneous birth announcements in the Honolulu newspapers documented the birth of Barack Hussein Obama in Hawaii in 1961. There is not a single piece of credible evidence to support claims to the contrary.

Such conspiracy theories are immortal because one of the features of a really good conspiracy theory is that very lack of evidence for the theory is taken to be yet more proof of the conspiracy. They are long-lived because the underlying mental pathologies are long-lived: As T. S. Eliot put it, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

Conspiracy theories are long-lived also because there is money to be made from them. One of the particularly disturbing aspects of Sheriff Arpaio’s investigation is its relationship with conspiracy entrepreneur Jerome Corsi, who would very much like to sell you a copy of the birther book he has co-authored with Michael Zullo, the volunteer investigator who took the leading part in the sheriff’s recent press conference. There is a booming business in birther baloney.

There is a great deal at stake in 2012: Obamacare either will be uprooted or it will be entrenched, the growth of the deficit either will be curtailed or it will run rampant, our ability to see to our national-security interests either will be reinforced or it will be diminished, the Supreme Court either will become more a guardian of the Constitution or it will become more a guardian of liberal pet interests. And, barring some unforeseen development, the next president will be either a former Republican governor and business executive, a former Republican senator who has been a reliable lifelong conservative, or a left-wing community organizer born metaphorically of the Chicago machine — but born literally in Hawaii.

Republicans who have chosen to associate with the birthers have done their party and their country a disservice. And as Sheriff Arpaio settles comfortably into that political mental ward, the same must be said of those Republicans who choose to associate themselves with him more broadly. Those who cannot distinguish between the birthers’ flim-flam and the critical questions that face our nation in 2012 will not win and do not deserve to.


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