Poor Mike Castle. The guy never knew what hit him.
Castle, a Delaware Republican congressman, was speaking at what he probably thought was going to be a nice, sedate town meeting, when a woman in the audience stood up.
She held up an American flag and a baggie, and in the type of angry, indignant voice usually reserved for people protesting sex offenders trying to move in -- well, anywhere -- she began: "I have a birth certificate here, from the United States of America, saying I'm an American citizen. With a seal on it."
She went on to describe said birth certificate in some detail, then asked : "I want to know, why are you people ignoring his birth certificate?" Her voice rose as she declaimed: "He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya. ... I want my country back!"Rep. Castle then made a serious mistake: He tried reason. "If you're referring to the president there," he said mildly, "he is a citizen of the United States."
The crowd erupted in boos and catcalls, and the Baggie Lady stood up again and brilliantly riposted by demanding that the whole crowd recite the Pledge of Allegiance with her. Because, after all, who needs to back up serious accusations with facts or logical arguments when you have the Pledge of Allegiance? I'm definitely trying that next time I'm in court.
Rep. Castle had been ambushed by what has become known as a "birther," a new and particularly reality-resistant type of conspiracy theorist. Birthers insist that President Barack Obama is not, as the Constitution requires, a native-born American citizen. The proof, they claim, is that he's never produced a birth certificate from his native state of Hawaii. The only problem with this theory is that he has.
The Obama Campaign posted the certificate online. When that wasn't good enough, they showed it to reporters from the nonpartisan website Factcheck.org, who in their words, "touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate" and concluded, "It meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false."
In addition, the Republican governor of Hawaii, the state's registrar of vital statistics and their director of public health have confirmed -- repeatedly -- that Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961.
But the hallmark of a true conspiracy theory is that every fact produced to refute it is cited as further proof of just how fiendish the conspiracy is and how far its tentacles extend. Witnesses? Part of the plot. Documents? Forgeries. Sanity? Overrated.
A recent highlight of birther-mania occurred on a Chris Matthews' "Hardball," where convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy stumbled and stammered as he attempted to explain why a document entitled "Certificate of Live Birth" is not a birth certificate.
In many ways, the birthers are like another group of crackpots, known as the "9/11 truthers," who advance various "proofs" that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America were actually planned and executed by the Bush administration. That they were the result, not of aerial attack, but controlled demolition. Or U.S. missiles. Or something.
The difference is that truthers don't get the sympathetic national forum granted the birthers by talk show hosts like de facto Republican Party Chairman Rush Limbaugh or CNN hothead Lou Dobbs. And very few political figures, on either side of the aisle, would respond to the question "Do you think Bush or Cheney was actually behind 9/11?" with the sort of cagey answers some Republican pols have used when asked "Do you think Barack Obama was born in the U.S.?"
"I think there are questions, we'll have to see," said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.).
"Oh, I'd like to see the documents," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the vice-chair of the House Republican Conference. Imagine the uproar if Nancy Pelosi had responded to the question "Did Bush order the attacks on 9/11?" with "I'd like to see the proof he didn't."
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was more upfront, telling an interviewer, "I don't believe [Obama] ever produced a birth certificate." But then Blunt, along with 377 other House members, Republican and Democrat, voted for a resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of the entry of Hawaii into the union, a resolution which begins, 'WHEREAS, the president of the United States was born in Hawaii ..."
Maybe he didn't want to say it on camera because he was afraid of the Baggie Lady.
Addendum: you know, for reasons of space, I didn't even go into the racist underpinnings of the whole birther movement. But the very first e-mail I got when the column ran on the newspaper's website pretty well sums it up:
Obama is part joo, part nigger. A mongrel hybrid. Yahweh god almighty
disfavors hybrids as in Noah's flood and in many other instances. If you want
to know more I will be happy to tell you. At least you will never be able to
say that NO ONE ever told you.
RACE SURVIVAL DEMANDS RACISM