That's the thesis of the First Readers of NBC News, after viewing this astonishing clip from a town hall meeting that Rep. Mike Castle held in Delaware for his constituents. What's most notable, to me, at least, is not how scared Castle looked or how passionately the woman argued for Barack Obama's foreign birth. It was the reaction of the audience, a good portion of which erupted into cheers and youbetchas. Birthers, for the uninitiated, is a term used by the media to ridicule those who believe that the president's Hawaiian birth certificate is fake and that because he was ostensibly born in Kenya, not the United States, he was never eligible to be president in the first place. To the extent that one can conclusively prove such things in our postmodern age, this claim has been extremely thoroughly debunked. The birther movement may be premised on a fictional belief, but it is savvy: birthers now wear the term "birther" as badge of honor, as if they were a persecuted minority -- which, come to think of it, is one mechanism for solidarity in the face of evidence to the contrary. ("Hitler had the "Untermenschen," Pol Pot had the "Intelligentsia," and now Obama has the "Birther.") The most prominent birthers are Alan Keyes, the former presidential candidate and Obama Senate challenger; Orly Tait, a wonderfully named lawyer from California; Phil Berg, a Democrat; and Michael Reagan, son of Ronald Reagan, and a prominent radio talk show host. This is, at once, a fringe movement and something greater. It's fringe because no important Republicans believe it, and most are offended by it. It's greater because some fairly prominent local lawmakers are beginning to sign birther petitions.
At least nine members of Congress have cosponsored a birther bill that would require prospective presidents to affirm their U.S. citizenship. What we don't know is how widespread the belief is among Republicans -- and even if the belief is confined to a narrow minority, whether the belief will spread as Republicans begin to pay closer attention to electoral politics in 2010 and 2012. In the same way that Democrats in 2004 always got a stolen election question (which, to be fair, was at least closer to reality than the birther's claims), Republican presidential candidates need to figure out how to diffuse angry birthers who are bound to show up and demand their attention. .... The buried lede to this post: Rush Limbaugh claimed today that Obama "has yet to prove that he's a citizen." Republicans have to be extra careful. If they give credence to the birthers, they're (not only advancing ignorance but also) betraying the narrowness of their base. If they dismiss this growing movement, they might drive birthers to find more extreme candidates, which will fragment a Republican political coalition.
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