Is the "Birther" Movement a Liberal Conspiracy?


In a Daily News op-ed, my friend and former colleague Jamie Kirchick argues that the birther movement says more about the left than it does about the right:

You could be forgiven for thinking that a serious campaign is afoot -- aided and abetted by the national Republican Party -- to question Barack Obama's citizenship. Over the past two weeks, an inordinate amount of news coverage has been afforded to "birthers," conspiracy theorists who claim that the President was not born in Hawaii, as his birth records indicate, but in Kenya.

It is not Obama's right-wing opponents, however, who are devoting the most attention to this obscure, Internet-driven "movement," if one can even use that label to describe such a paranoid groupuscule. Rather, it's liberals, bent on portraying their conservative opponents as extremists -- and changing the subject to help a President under increasing scrutiny for the substance of his policies -- who are driving this story.

This argument gets an approving nod from Jonah Goldberg, among others. But I don't quite get the logic here. Even if we grant the assumption that the left is pushing the story more than the right -- debatable, since the birthers had both the literal and figurative heft of Lou Dobbs behind them, but probably not worth debating -- that doesn't disprove the claim that there is a "serious campaign afoot" to question Obama's birth certificate. 

Why? Because there's no reason why the two claims are mutually exclusive! It can be true that lots of idiots on the right are questioning Obama's birth certificate. And it can also be true that the liberal media is devoting the builk of the attention to what is undoubtedly a pretty embarrassing fact for the right. It actually seems far more plausible to me that both claims are true than that only one of them is.

birthers.JPGOf course, Jamie is also skeptical as to whether there really is a substantial group of people on the right which questions the birth certificate. He says the birthers are but an "obscure...paranoid groupuscule." (Which certainly looks diminutive to me.) But can Jamie really believe this? In the last paragraph of his piece, he writes: "Yes, it's true. A new poll shows high numbers of Republicans doubting whether Obama was, in fact, born in the U.S." Well, which is it? Large number of Republicans, or obscure groupuscule?

Jamie dismisses the poll by noting that "a 2007 poll found a third of Democrats convinced that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred with the foreknowledge of the Bush administration." Well, that makes for a second red herring: both polls can be true! At the most this proves that there are a lot of idiots in the world. But I hope most people knew that before reading the op-ed.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bonzo/3693091396)

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

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