by Ben Cohen
(This article was originally published on the Huffington Post)
The following video came from a Town Hall meeting with Mike Castle (R-DE). A woman stands up, barely able to control her emotions, and furiously demands Barack Obama prove he is a United States citizen:
It's easy to dismiss the woman as a half baked lunatic and lump her in with other conspiracy theorists on the fringes of society. She is of course, and belongs with the fake moon landing idiots and 9/11 Truthers. But the fervor with which she states her case, and the extraordinary reaction of the audience is indicative of a far, far greater problem.
The Obama Birther Movement claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and is not a United States citizen. At a National Press Club session, New York preacher James Manning declared Obama "the most notorious criminal in the history not just of America, but of this entire planet."
Lou Dobbs, Liz Cheney, and a whole host of conservatives have done little to quell the rumors, and have even helped promote it.
There is of course, no evidence for the assertion. Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961 to an American mother, and a Kenyan father. And that's the end of the story.
The 'Birthers' have literally pulled it out of their backsides and are banking on extreme ignorance, racism and anger to promote their cause. Unfortunately, it seems to be working as hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition demanding he provide proof of his birth (thanks to sites like World Net). Conspiracy theories are not unique in America - it's a national pastime, and generally speaking fairly harmless. As Ben Smith writes in Politico:
Belief in obscure, discredited theories is a constant in a country with a history of partisan division -- a country in which, a recent survey showed, 34 percent of the public believes in UFOs and 24 percent believes in witches..
Yearly trips to Sedona, weird Internet chat rooms, and the occasional feature on the History Channel are about as much as the average conspiracy theorists needs -- it's enough to keep them quiet for most of the time, and provides good entertainment for everyone else.
However, the belief in vast conspiracy theories can also be hugely damaging as it distracts people from real issues and keeps them focused on exciting fantasies that make them feel important. The 9/11 truth movement was enormously helpful to the Bush Administration as it provided a giant distraction from the colossal crimes they committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. If their energies had been directed in a positive way, there's a good chance Bush would have been impeached and Dick Cheney thrown in jail. Alas, the 9/11 truth movement dedicated its time to proving the U.S government tried to kill thousands of its own people in exchange for gold/political power.
The Birther movement can be compared to the 9/11 truth movement, perhaps not in scale, but certainly in its potency. It is another example of a scared, confused population unable to rationalize why their jobs are being shipped abroad, their health care costs spiraling out of control, and the chances of putting their kids through college moving rapidly from slim to none.
The true reasons for this have been well documented. The United States government has been systematically bought out by giant corporate interest that have undermined the interests of the public. While the banks are entitled to welfare in times of crises, the people are not, and must fend for themselves, riddled with debt financial uncertainty.
But to understand this requires education and time, something far too many Americans have gone without. Instead, they lash out with fear and hatred at the nearest object.
That object happens to be a highly educate, serenely confident black man who epitomizes everything they are not. The Birth certificate nonsense has nothing to do with Obama's credibility as a U.S citizen. When the Nazi party blamed the Jews for Germany's economic woes in the 1930's, no one seriously believed they had a case. The fact is, as a highly educated, skillful sector of the population, Jews were often better off than average Germans during times of economic uncertainty. They were resented for it, and a theory was developed to legitimize the hatred.
The Birther movement is a racist movement that could quickly target others if left unchecked. Barack Obama has round the clock protection from the best trained professionals in the world. Minorities around the country do not, and could well be on the receiving end of the Birther's ire should they get bored of the birth certificate gibberish.
And the chances are, they probably will.