Will Barack Obama ever be free of conspiracy theories? During the presidential campaign, he was bedeviled by false rumors that he was a "secret" Muslim.
Now fringe elements charge that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and later renounced his U.S. citizenship to become a citizen of Indonesia — all of which renders his election illegitimate.
Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) sponsored a "birther" bill requiring presidential candidates to offer their birth certificates as proof of citizenship. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was even asked to address the matter during a recent news briefing.
Mainstream conservatives have rebelled. And the House of Representatives passed a resolution, with Republican support, asserting that Obama is a Hawaii-born citizen eligible for the presidency.
So why do conspiracy theories persist? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, jump into the fray.
First, some praise for mainstream Republicans: They’ve been as vigorous as anybody in smacking down the false rumors about Barack Obama’s origins. National Review, the conservative bible, emphatically denounced the "birther" allegations in a recent editorial. And Congressional backers of the birth certificate bill have, when pressed, said they believe the president is a U.S.-born citizen. It’s clear the GOP doesn’t want to die on the hill of fringe conspiracy theories.
Does that mean that conservative hands are clean in this smear? No.
Although they’ve distanced themselves from the loonier charges, Republicans have long tried to sell the public on the idea that there’s a "secret" Barack Obama whose darker instincts endanger the country.
Obama has, at various times, been depicted as a "secret" socialist, a "secret" black nationalist and a "secret" friend to terrorists — as a man whose professions of patriotism can’t be trusted, who is willing to sell out America because, well, he doesn’t love the country as much as you or I.
The Republican Party has been hard at work tilling the conspiracy soil. Is it any wonder that fringe flowers have bloomed? Again, this is a staple of GOP commentary — on radio talk shows, on Fox News and in other conservative bully pulpits.
And it’s not exactly a new trick: Remember the 1990s, when Bill and Hillary Clinton were widely accused in Republican circles of orchestrating the murder of Vince Foster?
Given that history, maybe GOP leaders are rejecting the "birther" theory not because it’s false, but because it’s bad politics for them. The most extreme conspiracy theories are more damaging to the Republican brand than to the president. Rejecting the fringe might put Republicans on the side of truth, but in this case that may just be a happy accident.
Every calorie burned and every neuron fired on the subject of President Obama’s birthplace — yes, contrary to what you might have heard Alan Keyes say, he is president — is energy better spent elsewhere.
It is energy not spent opposing the president’s very real policies. Congress is busy debating a $1 trillion health-reform bill that would fundamentally change the way Americans get medical care, and yet some Americans would rather argue over Obama’s certification of live birth.
Why? Because of the fallacy of "if only." If only we can show that Obama is constitutionally unqualified to be president, it would all just go away — the crazy socialized medicine schemes, the cap and tax energy legislation, the suicidal debt increases, the ridiculous posturing to Iran, Russia, and Venezuela, all of it.
If only politics were so simple. Forget the fringe. Obama isn’t going anywhere. But his agenda presents conservatives with real opportunities to craft and articulate sound alternatives. Conspiracy theories, like the poor, will always be with us. But they don’t win elections.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/.)