John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to email@example.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
The birthers' allergy to fact
If you believe that, you can believe anything. If you can believe anything, you join a growing constituency.
The “birther” movement, fueled by the Internet and figures like Shouting Lou Dobbs on CNN, clamors that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii in 1961, is not a U.S. citizen, is disqualified to be president of the United States.
These claims have been exploded by public officials in Hawaii, by PolitiFact.com, and by a lengthy article by McClatchy Newspapers that casts an instructive light on some of the foremost proponents of the birther allegations. Bill Pascoe, who had the unenviable task of managing Alan Keyes’s senatorial campaign against Obama in 2004, goes so far as to suggest in an article at CQ Politics that the mainstream media are pumping up coverage of birthers to discredit conservatives and prop up the president’s poll numbers.
Never mind. A poll commissioned by Daily Kos finds that Southerners and Republicans are disproportionately receptive to the idea that the president is not a citizen. And if you go to the McClatchy article, you’ll find any number of angry, frequently incoherent comments contesting the facts.
Conspiracy theories always appeal to the credulous in unsettled times, and the left is as prone to them as the right — I recall the rumors sweeping campus in 1972 that Richard Nixon was going to cancel the presidential election to fend of the challenge from George McGovern. (You’re permitted to chuckle here.) The birther fantasy feeds readily into Embattled White Guys hysteria — Pat Buchanan and Glen Beck proclaiming that the president hates white people and white culture — that political and cultural dominance is going to be taken away from those who think it belongs to them.
Refutation, which must be done by responsible media for the record, doesn’t work. Fact does not penetrate the birther mind set. The sane man or woman is left to take the Menckenian position that the whole spectacle is to be considered a burlesque for the entertainment of the intelligent.
Just sit back and watch the spittle fly.
*“He talks funny, like somebody from up North.” “He dresses funny, wears a damn bow tie.” “He reads books and uses big words to show off.” “He sent his children to lib’ral Eastern private colleges.” “What kind of Kentuckian does he think he is?”