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At the Heart of the "Birther" Conspiracy

The past week has seen the years-old “birther” conspiracy reach an unprecedented head with Barack Obama publicly releasing his long-form Hawaiian birth certificate and Donald Trump in danger of seriously pulling a muscle from patting himself on the back so hard for publicly pressuring the president to release the document.  But what’s really at play when such a seemingly irrelevant and far-fetched controversy manages to linger for years only to resurface in a major way?

 

Although the conspiracy theory is centered on a real law—that any presidential candidate must be a naturally-born US citizen—it quickly became clear that the “birther” phenomenon was an especially paranoid manifestation of poor loser’s syndrome: conservative voters, the Republican Party and the Orwellian Fox News/conservative media machine sought to punish Obama by any means necessary for winning the 2008 election.  Does it matter that the “birther” issue has no substantive connection to past or current policy debate?  Apparently not.  Two-and-a-half years later, though, it’s unclear what the surprisingly vocal conspiracy theorists hope to accomplish; Obama has already completed over half of his presidential term, so any fluke revelation that his birth certificate is illegitimate has no hope of nullifying the past, and every passing day makes the issue less relevant.  Unless, of course, the “birthers” are hoping for prosecution or are holding out on some sort of time travel device.  It seems, then, that the only real point of of the conspiracy’s continuing popularity is to impede Obama’s 2012 re-election progress.

 

What started as a crackpot theory has become a legitimate thorn in the president’s side—otherwise we wouldn’t have seen the release of the certificate.  Whether Obama’s birth certificate is legitmate or not, his failure to release it has certainly damaged his trustworthiness in the eyes of many who believe his reticence indicates he has something to hide.  Even Joseph Farah’s comments that the president continues to “cultivate a culture of secrecy around his life” have a sort of ring of truth, and even the publication of the certificate will never be enough to dispel the firmest birthers’ beliefs that the document is a forgery. Indeed, Trump has further proven that the center of the controversy isn’t really about the birth certificate but about continuing to distract and defame Obama in as many ways possible, continuing by calling into question his poor college grades.  The self-demonstrating lack of substance these allegations display point to the true issues that have brought them to such prominence in the public eye.

 

As mentioned above, despite their lack of substance, these types of controversy act as an extremely effective campaign tool.  Regardless of what policy debate is occurring, the conservative media machine can count on its bile-spewing zealots to repeat any allegation it chooses to put forth.  The fact that prominent media faces like Trump partake in the propaganda only makes the accusations get deeper under the administration’s skin and treat them more seriously.  By the time the next election comes around, at least some of the American public will question president’s moral standards—whether or not they’ve seen actual evidence.  Meanwhile, the Republican Party and conservative media have provided little or no substantive policy ideals for their followers to rally behind other than the most basic bullet points like “small government” and “less spending.”  This is where we arrive at the heart of the issue—power. 

 

It’s not about Obama’s legitimacy, college grades or even really the decisions he’s made since he’s been in office.  It’s about the fact that he—not a Republican candidate—won the 2008 election, and the conservatives are mounting a meticulous and ever-growing offensive against his administration in hopes of grasping the reins in 2012.  The fact that they’re willing to do so at the expense of telling the truth, educating their voter base on policy, compromising with bipartisan politics in the next two years or even comprehensively producing a policy plan that isn’t simply constructed to be anti-Obama is proof that the thing they really crave is simple power—top-dog status; the ability to control the government.

 

Before this piece is written off as a pro-Obama rant, please allow me to finish.  What is it that Obama craves?  I’ll give you a hint—it’s not progress, governmental transparency, liberal social values or bipartisanship—it’s power.  If his professed goal of civil service were his top priority, Obama wouldn’t pay any attention to such a ludicrous controversy.  Instead, all he can think about is the 2012 election and holding on to his power as president, forgoing substantive policy in order to clean up a PR mess that could cost him some voters.  Were he to remain true to his election promises and remain realistic, his best bet would probably be to doggedly pursue his so-called beliefs and attempt to make as much progress in the social and governmental progress he claimed to desire for the country.  Acting as a successful one-term president, making principled (if unpopular) decisions while grooming a potential Democrat successor is rationally the most effective way to accomplish policy goals—that is, if that’s what you’re really after.  Obama’s unsurprising obsession with the 2012 election not only contravenes his idealistic 2008 promise to rid Washington of “business as usual” politics, it demonstrates yet again the fact that the US election process significantly outweighs its purpose: as long as the acquisition of power outweighs true civil service, we can expect to continue to see that the bulk of our leaders’ decisions and actions are intended to secure re-election.