The Corner

Birthers of a Nation & The Paranoid Style of American Liberalism

I think Jamie Kirchik has the politics pretty much exactly right. Eugene Robinson, Joe Conason and E.J. Dionne, in addition to all the politicians and bloggers Jamie mentions, have been pumping the birther story in order to tar Republicans as extremists at precisely the moment their own agenda is being rejected by the American people for it’s own extremism. Even the folks at Mother Jones think this is a plausible explanation of the administration’s behavior:

If the White House thinks the birther movement is hurting the Republican party, they might refrain from doing anything that could cause the GOP to totally marginalize the group—like releasing the original certificate.

And heaven forbid anyone suggest that Robinson, Conason or Dionne would write columns to further the Obama administration’s political agenda.

One point I’d emphasize is the continuing amnesia of liberals when it comes to their own paranoia and/or their tacit support of it. Here’s Robinson:

If there has been a more clinically insane political phenomenon in my lifetime than the “birthers,” I’ve missed it. Is this what our national discourse has come to? Sheer paranoid fantasy?

Really? Did Robinson miss the 9/11 truthers? This was the movement that insisted the U.S. government was in on, or even orchestrated, the 9/11 attacks. Such theories went from the simply nutty to full-on whackjob bonkers. Some, like former DNC Chair and then-presidential candidate Howard Dean simply entertained the “theory” that Bush was “tipped off” by the Saudis but let 9/11 happen anyway. Some, like Rosy O’Donnell argued that the conspiracy was so advanced that the inside job was “the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel.”

Now, it may be foolish for birthers to assume that Obama’s refusal to release the full birth certificate is proof that he’s foreign born (as opposed to assuming he’s simply trying to gin up a controversy or conceal something else entirely) but is it really more crazy than thinking the United States government orchestrated 9/11?

There was also Michael Moore who insisted that Bush knew where Osama Bin Laden was but the president was simply keeping him on ice (Moore also believed OJ was innocent, for the record). The vast bulk of the left agreed with the Moore vision that Bush always knew there were no WMDs but “lied us into war” for ulterior motives. Those alleged motives varied in outlandishness, to be sure, but for a long while there no theory was crazy enough to earn much scorn from the Olbermanns and Conasons. When Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 opened in DC, Democrats flocked to the premiere, unconcerned with the paranoid delusions and deceits it contained. Click here to see then DNC chair Terry McAuliffe looking gaga as he shakes Moore’s hand.

Oh and let’s not forget all of the nonsense during, and in the wake of, Hurricane Katrina when several prominent figures made all sorts of crazy statements. Randall Robinson said that blacks — and only blacks — were eating the flesh of the dead almost immediately after the flooding. Spike Lee and others insisted that the levees might have been bombed by the Bush administration in order to kill or scatter black residents of New Orleans. Cynthia McKinney says the American forces rounded up and executed 5,000 “prisoners” and dumped in the swamps of Louisiana.

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership and the vast majority of rightwing and conservative pundits have either rejected or ignored the birther stuff (including Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan). But the GOP is supposed to own it. Democrats, meanwhile, were never held to a remotely similar standard when a far more evil and pervasive bout of paranoia claimed their own party. Funny how that works.

Woops: What I originally ran as an update is now a post from Noemie Emery above.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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