Now, I try to be fair with my republican friends and compatriots. I really, really do. But sometimes it’s hard. This is a prime example:
The theory that President Obama is not a natural born U.S. citizen (and thus ineligible to be President) has hardly been squelched. According to a new PPP poll, it’s actually a predominant belief within the Republican party.
In the poll, 51% of all likely Republican primary voters erroneously believed that President Obama was born outside of the U.S. Only 28% of those Republican voters said they thought Obama was born in America, while 21% said they were unsure.
I know that intelligent, thinking republicans – essentially, the republican establishment, as opposed to the republican base – would be as horrified to hear this news as I am (not that I’m all that surprised). What’s clear, however, is that such republicans are a clear minority in their party. While I hate to make generalisations about such a huge group of people, especially if they’re my fellow citizens, conservatives sometimes make it very, very hard.
The problem, as I see it, is that republican decision-makers and opinion-makers didn’t make any effort to push back on this insane rumour when it was still possible to do so. Three years ago, when the democratic presidential primary season was in full swing and Barack Obama was still in a neck-and-neck race with Hillary Clinton for the nomination, these whispers about Obama’s birthplace, citizenship and religion were all but non-existent – a few trouble-makers online trying to sow some seeds of discord in what looked even then to be an impending democratic victory in 2008. If the rumours had been quashed then – if John McCain and other republican luminaries had clearly come out and said that they had no doubt whatsoever about Obama’s citizenship and origins – then perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today. Instead, some quietly encouraged their party’s base to believe in the rumours, while others merely said nothing.
Now, it’s too late. Even if Glenn Beck himself came out and made an impassioned speech stating that the rumours were ridiculous, it wouldn’t be enough. The republican base wouldn’t believe him. They’d call him a sell-out, a turncoat, or merely stop watching his show. Such malicious whisperings are almost impossible to quash once they’ve been around for long enough.
It’s at least somewhat encouraging to hear, for instance, John Boehner (House Speaker) proclaim that “the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.” However, even republican politicians are scared enough of their base to add (quoting Boehner again): “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.”
No, it’s not your job to tell people what to think. Nevertheless, it is your job (you, Speaker Boehner, and your colleagues in the House, the Senate and elected positions nationwide) to actually point out when lies are being peddled or untruths become commonly believed. President Obama was born in America. He is a natural-born citizen. And no, he’s not a Muslim, not that that should matter, because Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”.
Once again, even if Boehner actually had the courage to buy a half hour of ad time to explain over and over again that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference. Nevertheless, his party is guilty of doing little to quash obvious untruths that harm our democracy and the legitimacy of our institutions. While there are nuts on both sides of the aisle, of course, at least the democratic leadership has constantly made an effort to stand up and rebut – nay, ridicule – conspiracy theories like those of the 9/11 truth movement early and effectively. As a result, while I would never for a second claim that democrats are universally intelligent, reasonable or right, they at least tend not to believe completely crazy nonsense like the birth certificate rumours.