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May 17, 2010


Chait writes, "I agree that Birthers have attracted far more coverage than Truthers." Unsurprisingly, Chait's explanation is that it's the Republicans' fault. The possibility of a double standard in the media just doesn't seem to occur to Chait; at least, it's not something he chooses to address. And sometimes, even when both birtherism and trutherism are discussed, there are differences in nuance, as when the former is dismissed as a "myth" and the latter treated as a "theory."

Brendan is right that attacks on the legitimacy of the President of the United States are outrageous. Too bad the Democrats didn't understand that when they constantly, relentlessly attacked Bush's legitimacy after 2000 and for some, even after 2004.

The Times article on birthers begins: The conspiracy theorists who cling to the false belief that President Obama was born outside the United States outrage many Democrats and embarrass many Republicans.

However, as Brendan recently pointed out, although there are twice as many Rep birthers, a full 15% of Dems are birthers. Maybe members of both parties ought to be embarrassed (except that in Times world, being a liberal means never having to say you're sorry.)

Incidentally, it's a quibble, but I disagree with Brendan's rhetorical question" Shouldn't he be more outraged that people are making false accusations about the legitimacy of the president of the United States?

Readings on the outrage-ometer are confounded when two different Presidents are involved. Let's look at comparable accusations against the same President (both of which are false):

1. Bush wasn't legitimately elected President. A partisan Supreme Court prevented a proper recount, which would have shown that Gore really won.

2. In order to persuade the US to begin two unnecessary wars in the middle east, Bush participated in a conspiracy to murder 3000 Americans by bombing the WTC and the Pentagon.

I personally think #2 is more outrageous.

Goldberg responds to Chait here:


BTW, does Brendan understand what "in the abstract" means?

Is it really "soft-pedaling birtherism" to observe that it is less wacko to ask the question whether the presisent may have been born in another country than than to wonder if he is part of conspiricy to attack his own country?

That seems rather "reflexive" of you Brendan.

I can't recall any "truther" Democrat who held statewide office. Can't say the same thing with a "birther" Republican, though (Chris Nelson, anyone?).

I dunno, Brendan, complaining about Jonah Goldberg is like shooting fish in a barrel. Has he ever written something that wasn't massively slanted? We're talking about the sleazebag who wrote "Liberal Fascism".

Daniel - Doesn't Van Jones as a member of the Obama administration count as a high ranking "truther"?

Ron - Have you actually read "Liberal Facism" or are you just reacting to the title?

Rob: Gore would have won the election had he not been so greedy and just asked for Florida law—the full recount— to be observed.

MartyB: I've never read Liberal Fascism, but I breathlessly awaited its release and several title changes several times over the course of almost a decade.It was almost disappointing that it actually got published.

With respect to the Supreme Court election decision, is there a group that contends that the court actually made a different ruling entirely .... but George W. Bush has been able to hide the truth from us?

howard, many Dems alleged that Bush had won the 2000 election due to the SC, rather than the votes. As my cousin's daughter put it, "Selected, not elected!"

In fact, Bush won the FL election based on total votes over and over again. He won based on the original count and won based on 2 or 3 recounts, including 1 or 2 with parameters chosen by Gore. A study by a group of newspapers showed that Bush probably would have won a complete recount, although Gore never asked for one.

I understand what you're saying David...that a different Supreme Court decision may not have changed the actual outcome of the election. I can agree with that. Of course we don't know with complete certainty, because there were a number of different possible remedies (to use a legal term) open to the SC. Still, those who disagree with their legal reasoning can make legitimate arguments regarding constitutional rights. And, converse arguments can be made as well.

But with respect to "birthers", there is a dispute regarding an actual factual event. So there is a need to rely on a conspiracy theory - a stance that maintains that the actual truth is being hidden.

To make the two situations more analogous one would have to contend that the SC was either bribed or extorted, or was told what decision to make, or had their decision changed after the fact.

I'm not proposing any of the above SC conspiracy theories...I'm just saying that displeasure with their decision (or simply the final outcome) isn't the same as advocating that such a theory is true.


Those who decry the SC decision ("selected, not elected") are more like those who point out that Gore won the popular vote but lost the election because he didn't carry enough electoral votes. It isn't the facts they dispute...they question the process.

In contrast, the "birther" group believe that the past has been misrepresented.

I'm fine with treating birtherism as a myth, not because I've studied the issue with any rigor but because I'm relying on Brendan's certitude and assume it must have been grounded on a thorough study of the issue, including Brendan's having a solid basis for knowing that the original birth certificate in Hawaii (as distinguished from the certificate of live birth which merely summarizes information in a computerized database created from contemporaneous birth certificates) was based on hospital records, not the affidavit of parents or grandparents, and his having been aware that federal law at that time would have required a child born outside the U.S. to a citizen and non-citizen to live continuously in the United States for five years in order for the child's U.S. citizenship to continue into adulthood and therefore might have provided a reason why parents or grandparents might prefer to have a birth recorded as having occurred in the U.S. So let's not consider President Obama's indisputable natural-born citizenship but consider instead a hypothetical future candidate and how the issue of such a candidate's adherence to Constitutional requirements of age and natural-born citizenship might be adjudicated.

It seems to me there are several possibilities: (1) each state could satisfy itself of a candidate's age and citizenship before allowing the candidate's name to be placed on the ballot; (2) the electors could consider age and citizenship before casting their ballots; (3) the Senate and House of Representatives could refuse to count the votes of electors for a person whose age and natural-born citizenship the Senate and House are not satisfied has been established; (4) the Congress could impeach and remove a President on the ground that he or she did not satisfy the Constitutional requirements; (5) the courts could adjudicate adherence to Constitutional requirements and declare that a person is not lawfully serving as President; or (6) the issue of whether a candidate is 35 years of age and a natural-born citizen could be among those issues that voters consider in deciding whether to elect the candidate. Of these alternatives, having state-by-state determinations is possible but unwieldy, the electoral college seems neither qualified nor well-equipped to make the judgment, there is no Constitutional mechanism for Congress to refuse to count validly cast electoral votes, and courts are likely to reject having a role on the basis that it is a political question. What remains is impeachment by Congress and leaving it to the voters. Though I believe both these remedies for failure of a candidate to meet Constitutional requirements are workable, reliance on voters seems by far the more democratic and less disruptive approach.

However, if we are going to trust voters to make informed decisions about whether a candidate meets Constitutional requirements, that requires that these issues be aired in public. If media elites suppress the reporting or discussion of whether a candidate meets Constitutional requirements, that subverts the most democratic means of resolving the matter and fosters rather than diminishes conspiratorial thinking among the public. It was Louis Brandeis who first said, "Sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants." Was the man never wrong?

Well, I suppose the media elites could give more air time to Phil Berg - he's both a truther and a birther !!

I guess he's a member of the conspiracy elite.

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