Birthers do not believe that Barack Obama was born in the USA. Despite the birth certificate and the notification of birth in several Honolulu newpapers. Over 50% of Republicans believe the Birther myth while only 33% of Republicans definitely acknowledge that Obama was born in the US. This is the topic of much analysis including the careful NYTimes Room for Debate and it is very relevant because it helps explain that over 50% of the Republican Party has chosen to become emotionally committed to the false assertion that President Obama is not a natural-born US citizen. This is akin to being delusional [retaining a belief despite explicit contradictory evidence] and thus becoming Deliberately Irrational. This posting will offer evidence as to why so many Republicans have become Birthers. And finally, it will look at Birthers Rights and how could signal the decline of the Republican party into near irrelevance as it loses control of nearly 1/2 of its base. One only has to look at the caliber of the GOP 2012 Presidential candidates for additional confirmation of this thesis.
Why so many Republican Birthers?
With a tsunami of events and facts and causal notions, a 21st century person has to attend selectively and assume that media sources of information are transparent, verifiable, complete and therefore true. Of course these assumptions have to be put on the back burner from time to time and one has to do a personal investigation and fact checking. So ye Editor did not pay attention to the the birther issue that had been circulating since 2004 until late Spring of 2008 when Hillary Clinton supporters suggested candidate Obama had been born in Kenya. Since that would disqualify Obama from running for President ye Editor was on the alert; but by June of 2008 a copy of his Birth Certificate was released including confirmation by Hawaii officials – and so the case was closed. But a seed of disbelief had been planted.
The growth of the Birther movement is documented on wikipedia and a timeline is found here. The growth of the Birther notion among Republicans is notable. In October 2008, the Orange County Register did a poll and found 30% of Republicans were Birthers. In July 2009, a poll done for the Daily Kos found that 28% of Republicans were full Birthers while 30% were Doubters of Obama’s citizenship. And by February 2011, fully 51% of Republicans said that Obama was not born in the US.Among Tea Party members Birthers and paraphernalia were sure sources of campaign funds, revenues and enthusiasm.
As a results, Atlantic/CBS-News Marc Ambinder described the quandry that Republicans are in: “Republican presidential candidates need to figure out how to diffuse angry Birthers who are bound to show up and demand their attention. 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” And so the spectrum of responses of key GOPers and many potential Republican candidates has been diverse but decidedly pro-Birther: former Senator Rick Santorum – PA, Senator John McCain[born in the Panama Canal Zone], and Tim Pawlenty reject the Birther notion.
But the number of Republicans leaders that allow for doubting the President with comments like “I will take the President at his word” include Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio, Republican Majority Whip Eric Cantor-VA, Senator Richard Shelby-AL, Congressman Roy Blunt-MO, Congressman Nathan Deal – GA, Congressional candidate Tracey Mann – KA,Congresswoman and potential Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann. Full deniers/Birthers include Congresswoman Jean Schmidt-OH, 2008 VP-Candidate Sarah Palin is at first a full Birther but later moves toward the Doubter camp with “voters have the right to ask questions, but she herself has never asked Obama to produce a birth certificate”, Senate candidate Ken Buck-CO, Senator David Vitter – LA, Former Speaker of the House and potential Presidential candidate Newt Gingerich, Presidential candidates Andy Martin and former Governor Mike Huckabee – AR.
But the premier Birther is potential Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump who has played the Birther phenomenon to rise from less than 5% in the GOP Presidential polls to 19% -22% and top spot in the past half year by continually raising Birther questions at rallies and media appearances. This is a powerful example of single issue exploitation which has become characteristic of the Republican base. And that is the fundamental problem rasied by Marc Ambinder and others. How do you hold together a party built on shrinking base of conservative business/Wall Street interests and a fragile coalition of wedge issue groups when current Republican policy choices are dividing those already tenuous “partners”?
Birthers Get Shafted
The two major groups in the Republican base have increasingly clashing interests.For example, Republican governors attacking government unions jobs threatens all union jobs. Republicans delaying foreclosure rectifications plus relentlessly opposing the launch of the Consumer Finance Protection Agency[including appointment of the very able Elizabeth Warren] puts the banks and financial interests ahead of the middle and lower classes regardless of party affiliation. In the same vein, the Bush and then Obama rescuing of the failing banks and financial institutions without extracting any commitments from the financial institutions for mortgage relief or better risk management through lower leverage ratios, better fundamental capitalization of these financial players, more transparent trading in high risk derivative and complex financial instruments , plus no creation of a financial institution insurance fund against catastrophic failure which would siphon current and future banking/financial institutions profits and executive compensation to pay for government bailout funds [$3.3 trillion due from the latest bailout]. None of these measures were enacted by either the Republicans or Democrats, so despite the watered down Frank-Dodd Financial reform Bill of 2010 – John Q. Public is still on the line for the next Financial Bailout.
Even worse this inaction by both Bush and Obama has done two things. It has allowed the perpetuation of the “trickle down” myth that says give money to the financial capitalists and they will not just trickle down but invest whole-heartedly in new ventures , create jobs and cause the economy to flourish again. Three years of $3.3 trillion in bailouts and countless $ trillions more through near 0% interest rates has seen both banks and big businesses sitting on the sidelines with their hordes of near $1.2 trillion in cash.The Trickle Down effect has been exactly that for the economy with barely perceptible increases in capital spending, job creation, and most discouraging: scarce capital available for small business loans – the primary creators of jobs in a recovering economy. Second, both parties are vying to do effectively nothing about jobs and job creation. Sure every dollar spent in government will be touted as creating[more likely preserving jobs], but there are no major initiatives. And so the engine of the economy for the past 60 years, Personal Consumption which account for 70%of GDP, has been cut-off with stagnant wages, rising inflation pressures, rampant outsourcing, and scant new job creation – thank you for Obama Care and Change we cannot rely on.
And now Birthers have to endure the latest abuse- this time wholly Republican. In Republican Paul Ryan’s budget plan to relentlessly cut the deficit – the first provision is to increase the deficit by $1.2 trillion [close to 10% deficit increase in the style of Republican Presidents who are responsible for all of the increases in US deficits ] by making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Even worse, the GOP acting on behalf ogf their SuperWealthy contributors, are demanding lower tax rates for the rich[to the lowest levels in 80 years.] at great cost to effective government and also at a time when the very rich owe so much to the government which rescued preferentially the liveliehood and wealth of the the very wealthy from financial ruin. Then, in a hypocritical “beggar thy children” ploy Congressman Ryan proposes massive cutbacks in Medicaid and Medicare that will add $6000/year in medical expenditures for those less than 55 years in age. And simple mechanisms like allowing Medicare to secure competitive bids for its drug purchases and review boards for cost and best practices are being cutout by Republicans. So in effect, Republicans support of the SuperWealthy and lobbying interests is at the grinding expense of people in the the middle and lower income levels.
To summarize, Birthers are seeing their own party abandoning them to laggard job creation efforts and disproportionate benefits to the SuperWealthy. The Obama administration is complicit as it put emphasis on health care reform over job creation. But the Republican operatives are the main instigators in raiding the Middle Class. With the GOP’s Starve the Beast campaign, obstruction of administration reforms and deliberate stifling of President Obama’s Cabinet appointments, Republicans are able to “show that government is not working under President Obama” even though most of the underlying problems were incurred in the previous 8 years of Bush administration dismantling of regulatory agencies and President Bush’s excessive spending ways.
So the reaction of Birthers has been driven by the fact that both their own party and the Obama administration have failed to deliver. But Birthers are loathe to blame their own party and so Birthers redirect their fury at the only permissible target, the Obama administration whose emphasis of health care over jobs is an easy Blame Game target by Republicans. But there is more to the redirected hatred of all things Obama – and that might be thought of as the Birther Rights as delineated below.
Since neither party has addressed their two greatest concerns – jobs and a better economy, the Birthers phenomena is a way for middle to lower class Republicans to take out their fury in a “correct” redirected fury at Obama and not their own party. But there are many overlapping reasons for the Birthers response. Here are some of the postulated reasons for the Birthers often deliberately irrational beliefs. I have highlighted in green some of the key notions that appear here and else where in opinions written on the Birther phenomenon.
Declining economic and national prospects – Michael Scherer, Time Magazine
And in this fact is proof that Trump, Corsi and the other not-so-serious carnival barkers of the public sphere are on to something much bigger than just the birth place of the 44th President of the United States. Like Glenn Beck, who can seamlessly connect the uprising in Cairo with the 1960s radical Bill Ayers, they are trying to provide answers to a certain segment of the population seeking outlandish explanations for recent events, because the factual ones are not satisfactory. They seek an emotionally satisfying outlet for their fury at their country’s decline, the decade-long collapse in the credibility of its institutions, and the rapidly changing demographic makeup of its leadership. Birtherism was never about Obama’s birthplace. It was the MacGuffin, the symbolic, hollow device for moving forward a narrative. Alfred Hitchcock, the great director, once explained how the MacGuffin worked…
Motivated mis-reasoning – David Redlawsk, Rutgers University
The reality is that “facts” are unlikely to mean much to those who believe in their gut that Obama is not American. Political psychologists call this “motivated reasoning.” It goes something like this: I dislike someone; I learn something positive that should make me feel better about him; instead, I dislike him as much or even more. This is clearly irrational, but our feelings about people are complicated, and we tend to hold on to them even in the face of contradictory information.
This is not unique to those who dislike Obama. We are all somewhat impervious to new information, preferring the beliefs in which we are already invested. We often ignore new contradictory information, actively argue against it or discount its source, all in an effort to maintain existing evaluations. Reasoning away contradictions this way is psychologically easier than revising our feelings. In this sense, our emotions color how we perceive “facts.”
Racial Resentment – David O. Sears, UCLA
In our 2010 book, “Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America,” Michael Tesler and I analyzed the role of racial attitudes in Americans’ voting decisions in 2008, based on two major national surveys with thousands of respondents (the results were almost identical across surveys).Party identification was, as always, the strongest predictor of candidate choice. But race was central to the vote, too. The most powerful form of racial animus in politics today is often called “racial resentment,” as reflected in anger about blacks’ demands, criticism of blacks’ work ethics, and believing that racial discrimination has largely disappeared. Such racial resentments had stronger effects on candidate choice than in any other recent presidential election.
How is that relevant to the birthers? Consider three powerful principles in political psychology: strong prior attitudes can powerfully influence responses to an unfamiliar issue, especially if authoritative sources associate the issue with such attitudes, and if the new issue is inherently ambiguous…[And] if you were a birther, would you trust your neighbor who spends his evenings on the Internet and watching Fox News, or the Times?
History of Bias in the US – James T. LaPlant, University of Valdosta State University in Georgia
The “birthers” can be viewed as part of a long tradition in American politics of attacking politicians as “other,” “foreign,” or “not one of us.” At the dawn of our republic, there were fears of the Illuminati and Freemasons. Fear of European influences and cabals were part of the revolutionary fervor in the colonies. In the 1800s, we witnessed an anti-Masonic party and fear of Catholics as part of the concern over foreign and subversive influences.
The 20th century gave us Red scares in the 1920s and 1950s with the particularly ugly right-wing McCarthyism and attacks on politicians, civil servants, members of the military and ordinary citizens as foreign Communist agents.
The false belief that Obama was not born in the U.S. or that he is a Muslim has been tracking upward with economic uncertainty and individuals’ worries about the economy. Plenty of conspiracy beliefs go hand in glove with worries and fears about globalization and unexpected/unpredictable economic shocks.
Further anxieties among birthers may relate to the growing diversity of America, which in 2050 will be minority white. For some of those surveyed, maybe a small percentage, questioning his citizenship and religion could be a manifestation of old-fashioned racial hostility.
I learned long ago that you will rarely win an argument with a conspiracy theorist. Conspiracy theorists have a profound distrust of the media and experts of all types. What most of us would consider solid evidence to quickly dismiss these charges would be rejected by birthers as frauds, fakes or manipulated documents. We often ask why do people believe weird or silly things? It can provide them with comfort and consolation in a world that appears increasingly complex, globalized and difficult to understand….
The Echo Chamber Effect, Group Think – Nicholas DiFonzo, psychologist, Rochester Institute of Technology
Why don’t people believe the facts that clearly refute the “birther” rumor? To many, this resistance to refutation seems incomprehensible. How could this be? The answer lies in the increasingly disconnected ideological echo chambers that are distrustful of one another, and of official information sources.
People exist in like-minded social cliques, clans, or clubs. Take the Internet: conservative political blogs tend overwhelmingly to link with other conservative political blogs; liberal blogs to other liberal blogs. This polarization makes for fertile soil for rumors. In my research, when Republicans and Democrats were put in separate groups and each group was asked to discuss a derogatory rumor about the other party (e.g., “Republicans are uneducated;” “Democrats give less to charity”) beliefs in these rumors polarized in predictable directions. When the discussion groups were mixed, this did not happen.
Among like-minded people, it’s hard to come up with arguments that challenge the group consensus, which means group members keep hearing arguments only in one direction. When we hear a rumor denigrating someone in the opposing political party, we are far more likely to send it to friends — typically members of our own party — whom we think would enjoy hearing that rumor….
Delusional Thinking with Echoes of Extremism – Gerrald M. Post, pyschologist
A delusion is a fixed belief held in the presence of strong contradictory evidence. This is a hallmark of the paranoid, who suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are harming or deceiving him. That a plurality of Republican voters, over 45 percent, despite clear evidence that President Obama was born in Hawaii, think he was born in another country, would seem to admirably fit that definition. Does this mean that those who hold to that belief are clinical paranoids? Absolutely not. A group can develop paranoid ideas, including especially conspiracy theories, even though the individuals in that group are psychologically normal.
Belief in an adversary, a rival or an opponent is central to political life. But when rivals become enemies we are entering the territory of paranoia. In the United States, Democrats and Republicans are (for the most part) not enemies. They are rivals, adversaries or opponents. Rivals for power are a necessary and inevitable feature of political life, but to the psychologically healthy political actor, their role is that of competitors, to be defeated.
To the paranoid they are pitiless foes who must be destroyed lest they destroy. Huey Long would say to those who opposed him: “I’m not just going to beat you. I’m going to destroy you.”
Conspiracy Theories in Politics aided by a gawking Press – Michael Barkun, political scientist
The “birther” idea has “legs.” So what conclusions can we draw ? Two, I think, are primary. First, this is yet another demonstration of the degree to which conspiracy ideas have saturated the culture. For clearly the “birthers” think a conspiracy conceals President Obama’s “real” origins. While tales of secret plots might seem innocent enough in entertainment vehicles like The X-Files or Angels & Demons, they clearly constitute part of a world-view for increasing numbers of people.
This perspective sees events as controlled by some hidden hand. For conspiracists, nothing is as it seems, nothing happens by accident, and everything is connected, with no room for accident or coincidence. They believe themselves to possess hidden knowledge of how the world “really” operates, while everyone else has been duped.
Such beliefs about hidden cabals and secret knowledge have always existed. They can be found in the earliest days of the Republic. What is different now is the way they spread. And that brings us to the second factor.
Ideas like the “birther conspiracy” would surely never have gotten the traction they currently have 25 or 30 years ago. The difference lies in the radical transformation of the media environment. Before, say, the early or mid-1990s, that environment consisted primarily of major newspapers, television and radio networks, newsweeklies, and wire services, with gatekeepers filtering their content. But now the Internet has dramatically expanded the playing field, producing massive amounts of unfiltered content, widely distributed through the blogosphere.
A dangerous implication of these two factors is their potential to undercut the legitimacy of institutions, since the “birther” idea erodes the legitimacy of the presidential office by implying that Barack Obama has no right to occupy it. Equally disturbing, this kind of conspiracism implies that conventional political action and the electoral process are meaningless. The consequence is political alienation.
A consistent theme in the above analysis sees Birthers as disenfranchised and thus inclined to conspiratorial explanations of their circumstances. As the Republican party policies move towards and favors its business and super-rich side at the expense of the already disaffected middle and lower income groups, Birthers find themselves betrayed by their own party. Birthers are confronted with unsavory choices. They can remain loyal to the GOP party that has betrayed them or embrace more Democratic positions. Fortunately for the Republicans, President Obama has a)done the same as the GOP and assisted the financial elites first b)while making health care reform, not jobs his number one priority. This has made Obama an easy target for the GOP, Tea Party and disillusioned Birthers. True, there may be other key enablers like a gawking Press, some deep racial resentments [even though Blacks have been hurt disproportionately harder with unemployment among unionized Black workers rising significantly] and other social defense mechanisms.
Several of the above analyses imply a “Tail wags the dog” irrational behavior where personal setbacks and damning evidence against their beliefs or group/party affiliation are deeply discounted if not outright rejected. Birthers are very reluctant to give-up their long held beliefs and choices. Social ties and group-think defenses may further suppress any misgivings, warnings or contrary evidence [like the GOP proposed budget plan giving $1.2 trillion tax breaks to the super rich and then demanding deep health care and other social program cuts that hurt the Republican middle and lower income groups just as badly as Democrats].
Birthers are a sign of a coping mechanism – the Republican Middle Class who have looked to the GOP primarily to supply support for less gun control or denial of gay marriage rights or strong anti-abortion policies; now find that their party has chosen the super wealthy wing over their interests. But the Democrats, having promoted “Change we can believe in” have also short changed them on the crucial issue of jobs, foreclosure support, and a robust economic recovery. Any surprise now that the Birthers are taking out their fury on the “easier” target?
Where Do Birthers Go?
Now that President Obama has provided a second long form birth certificate while CNN [ironically the network that played the most Birther stories] and has provided multiple additional evidence debunking Birther notions. As a result some key Republicans have moved beyond “I will take the president at his word …. nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean“. When Karl Rove, master GOP political manipulator, says back-off to Republicans on promoting Birther notions – then the deal is done. And given the way that the President and SNL Comedian Seth Meyers raked Donald Trump over the satire coals[best one liner from Seth Meyers – “Donald Trump said he was running as a Republican. I just assumed he was running as a joke.”], the Birther notion is done and maybe overcooked. But the underlying resentment lingers and it could be redirected at the Republicans given Obama’s triumph against Osama Bin Laden – proof positive he is no Muslim sympathizer.
So as the analysis above implies, vestiges of Birther protest will continue to Rush out further Birther fantasies for many months to come – this is still a ratings, polling and political contributions mother lode to be tapped out for as long as it can be mined. So what will happen with Birthers? Well if the above theory is any guide , people espousing Birthers belief will decline over time, but hardcore Birthers will morph onto some other convenient Obama-hating target. But the implications for the Republican party are stark.
What happens if Obama applies the same relentless drive in getting Osama Bin Laden to creating new jobs? With the Ryan Plan, the Republicans are easily shown to be shameless opportunists not really trying to cut the deficit and moving the Economy forward. Yet some Republicans are determined to press the perceived advantage of blaming it all on Obama believing recent economic shifts may allow the Republicans to pursue a dangerous Blame Game. The combination of oil price rises, general inflation, and interest rates that will have to rise means the recovery may stall. But blame-gaming the President for Republican induced deficits and financial malfeasnce will be an increasingly hard sell. Credibility for the Republicans will be stretched to the limit in even among the Republican base as the obviousness of the GOP’s treasonous Starve the Beast spending and $trillions Bailouts for Wall Street. This unstinting protection of Wall Street mortgage and financial manipulators has been well rewarded in campaign funds from Wall Street but may well come to bite backon GOP ambitions.
Republican tactics chip away at their base with attacks on the union movement, planned gutting of medicare and medicaid while passing on tax breaks to the superwealthy, thwarting of green energy jobs and reforms, the brazen Republican defunding of foreclosure relief programs even after banks have been remiss with robo-foreclosure signings and other illegal mortgage shortcuts – all of these policies hurt the GOPs middle and lower income base. So to retain that wedge issue base the Republican strategists have to a)give even more leeway to the carnival right like Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, the Fox news opnioniators, and others of the Shrill + Deceitful and b)take ever more extreme positions on these issues. But there are consequences for these increasingly fringe positions.
First and foremost, the Republicans have still failed to produce a credible 2012 Presidential candidate. Who wants to lead/control such a finge loaded circus. There is a a surplus of incredible ones [including the Donald]. It is reported that many of the serious Republican contenders, unwilling to try to harness the party’s fringes or take on a rejuvenate President Obama, have bowed out early. Of even more concern is the fact that the GOP is becoming increasingly marginalized as it tries to convert one-man-one vote into one man, several campaign funded votes with its super rich cohorts. A Gallup poll from June 2009 shows the depth of the quandry:
In almost every demographic the Republican party is losing supporter. Missing from these charts are the big swing of the fastest growing electoral group – Hispanics that are switching to Democrats as well. With the WalMart and equal pay for Women cases coming before the Supreme Court and Congress with the GOP taking positions against women, further GOP losses in womens support could result. But perhaps just as significant, if one fifth of Birthers, fed up with their GOP parties support for hold their noses and switch allegiances, its 2-4% Presidential vote switch. All Obama has to do is switch his priorities to innovative Job Creation and broader stimulation of the Economy.
The Birther phenomena is a classic case of redirected animosity. Neither the GOP nor the Obama administration have worked actively enough on creating jobs and an improving the economy after the devastating 2007-2009 recession despite voters telling pollsters and candidates in national elections 2006, 2008, and 2010 that this was the number one issue. So a basic Birther Right to take out their fury on President Obama rather than their own Republican leadership which is attacking Birthers well being in so many ways.
So lets consider the Birthers Rights questions one more time. First, is it understandable that a Birther-like conspiracy theory and delusional behavior arise? Yes. Do therefore people have a Birthers Right to deliberately act irrationally and reject clear and verifiable evidence ? Emphatically, NO! because such redirection leaves Birthers open to personal and social exploitation. That is literally the nature of a tragedy – when one rejects the very ones who have your best interests at heart or conversely accept the “help” of those plotting to do you in. We all have to guard against Type1 errors[rejecting a notion when in fact it is true when all full and verifiable evidence is available] and also Type 2 errors [accepting a notion or belief when in fact full and complete evidence proves the notion false] – “to thine own hearts always be true”. This is the defining characteristic of adulthood – the ability to navigate through life with a moral compass unencumbered by accumulating false beliefs.
But most damning is the verdict against the Republican party. They have been exploiting Birthers for the past 10-15 years. President George W. Bush ‘s dictum “you can fool some of the people all of the time and those are the ones you should pay attention to” was simply not a joke – it was and is the Bush/Rove policy. So the GOP has been for the past 10-15 years taking advantage of Wedge issues and some voters sense of deep enfranchisement on just those issues alone. But the continued effort of the Republican leadership to feed and profit from the Birthers sense of grievance and disenfranchisement may well wreck on its decision to support the Super Wealthy even more completely and at the expense of its Birther supporters. All you need is what is called in Nuclear Physics – Quantum Leakage. Some small percentage of Birthers, say 3-5%, may become independents or switch completely as the foreclosure or the rise in health care costs hits too deeply. And the bite back may well be soon in coming. In sum, the Birthers phenomenon may mark the GOP high water mark and signal a rapid Republican decline.