Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Coming GOP Rift: Lines Drawn Over “Birther” Issue

In my last post I spoke about Donald Trump and sarcastically poked fun at his stirring the “birther” pot as a blatant ploy for relevance in a vague and confusing Republican 2012 candidate pool.  Little did I know that his little PR gambit would actually rip a giant chasm within the right wing of today, forcing people on either side of the “birther” issue to decide where they stand, once and for all.

A recent poll indicates that a majority of registered Republican primary voters (51%) thought that Obama was not born in the United States.  This is a significant shift from a similar poll taken in August of 2009 that found 44% of Republicans believed Obama was not a natural born citizen.  This is a simple case of “appealing to the majority” for Trump.  He decided simply to speak to 51% of Republican primary voters and use the “birther” issue as a sticking point, basically to curry their favor.  It’s a fairly transparent strategy.
But this week there was a new development.  A recent bill making its way through the Arizona state legislature, if signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, would have made it a requirement for any Presidential candidate to (per the linked article above):

“…have their national political party send the secretary of state an affidavit from the candidate saying that they are natural-born citizens, have lived in the U.S. for 14 years and are at least 35 years old. The party must include documents proving that information, preferably a long-form birth certificate. If that document is not available, the candidate can provide at least two of the following: early baptismal or circumcision certificate, hospital birth record, postpartum medical record signed by the person who delivered the child, or an early census record.” (azcentral.com, by Alia Beard Rau)

Obviously this bill, as written, is ludicrous, and is indicative of how far to the insane right Arizona Republicans have gone.  This is the same state that produced the “show your papers if you look/sound foreign in front of a cop” law, as you may remember.  So you would think, given all that has happened under Jan Brewer’s tenure as Governor of Arizona, this bill should be a shoo-in to become law, right?

Not so fast.  Brewer shot the law down, saying it "creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona."  Wow.  Here is the lady that found it politically advantageous to persecute immigrants and subjugate them to de facto second-class citizen status saying it “creates significant new problems” to have Obama submit his baptismal certificate and hospital birth record so he could appear on the ballot in Arizona?  It would seem incongruous, at first glance, that she could hold both of these opinions at the same time, but that’s only at first glance.

Simply put, the “birther” issue is political poison.  The writing has been on the wall for quite some time, from the beginning even.  Want proof?  Michele Bachmann, another loony favorite of mine, has also now distanced herself from the issue.  So have Karl Rove, Tim Pawlenty snd House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.  Essentially, the “birther” issue is rapidly becoming a wedge issue within the Republican Party, with the true die-hard wingnuts on one side and the more politically savvy, more serious contenders on the other.  Much as I hate putting Michele Bachmann in any group labeled “politically savvy,” I must call them as I see them.  Besides, it’s likely a campaign aide or other handler has guided Ms. Bachmann’s opinion on the issue at least somewhat.

The main reason the “birther” issue is absurd to me, mostly is its blatant, but implied, racism.  Here we have a guy who has sort of an “international” upbringing, was born to a non-American father, has spent significant time abroad, and generally has lead a life most Americans who were born, live and will die in the same city or town, consider strange and alien.  Oh, and by the way, he’s black too.  And he has a Muslim-sounding name.  Simply put, adding this up does not produce someone the ignorant, uneducated, white, mostly rural people that make up the majority of these “birther” Republicans and Tea Partiers think is very "American."  To them, each of the details I described above about Obama’s life are evidence that he is really a secret Muslim who was born outside of this country, and no amount of logical, reasoned and evidence-laden counter-argument will change their mind.  It’s real because Glenn Beck said it’s real, and that’s that.

So, where does that leave the Republican candidate pool, you might ask?  In a game of choosing sides.  Do they play to the simpletons out there who believe Obama was somehow constructed by al-Qaeda almost 50 years ago to take over America and secretly place a Muslim in charge?  Or do they play to the upper middle class and rich business interests the GOP has usually played to?  Basically, does a Republican candidate fully embrace the wingnut Tea Party element, or not?  A similar rift has been present ever since the latest Congress has convened, with John Boehner having to somehow appease both of these sides at the same time as Speaker of the House.  It’s made policymaking a bit complicated, to say the least.  Democrats definitely wasted no time in exploiting that, and they nearly succeeded in wiping out the Paul Ryan budget proposal.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Obama as President.  He is a terrible leader and a terrible negotiator.  What we have right now is a “Committee Chair-in-Chief,” who is always looking to have everyone “come together” and “compromise,” even on issues where there are two distinct and radically opposing sides.  It makes for complete chaos, and middle-of-the-road, milquetoast policy decisions that end up satisfying neither side of a given issue and making people on both sides of the political spectrum dislike him a little more each time.  Obama is a college professor in President’s clothing, simply put.  Dislike him for the right reasons.  He should be replaced with a better leader, but not because he’s black, or Muslim, or any other silly thing he’s been accused of.  He should be replaced just because he’s a shitty President.


UPDATE: There is actually now a birther bill making its way through the Louisiana state legislature, with language very similar to the Arizona bill.  Governor Bobby Jindal, another GOP grandstanding wunderkind, has promised to sign it into law if it passes.  I guess we know where he stands on the issue.


  1. Well, Joe, I can always count on you to present current events as seen by the typical educated - but not social scientist - American and make them entertaining, and that's not an insult. It is very provocative as having a degree in this shit really strips me of that capacity. Like the line from Men In Black - "we never quite look at the stars the same way anymore".

    However, what your last 2 posts miss is that most Americans don't think like you OR I; and no matter how much truth there is to your criticisms, the politicians you deride are nevertheless professionals who understand this.

    Your conjecture about the "birther" issue having primarily racial undertones illustrates my point. Outrageous accusations are an undeniable reality of American political campaigns and in most cases historically, the accusers are of the same race as the target. Bush Jr. was accused of deserting from the national guard, Rand Paul of being an "aqua buddhist", Clinton of smoking marijuana, and so forth. The birther issue is merely the brand of idiocy that has surfaced under this administration, and if anything, hasty assumptions of racism are Obama supporters' own "birther" issue. I'm not denying that racism exists or that some birthers may be motivated by it, but there is no logical causality and even the correlation gives these idiots WAY too much credit.

    The significance of the birther issue is that accusation peddlers serve the role of political effigies for the target's supporters - their stupidity is claimed to apply to anyone that dares intelligently criticize the target's abysmal policymaking. Michael Moore served this purpose for Bush Jr., birthers have been serving it for Obama, and the "race card" players for the Tea Party. Anyone that doesn't realize the shrieking and marginalizing negative attention from the liberal media was the number one factor in the Tea Party's success in November simply has their head in the sand. This all may seem intuitive, but what isn't to most Americans is that politicians are neither for or against such issues, they just manipulate them. Every politician involved realizes that both birthers and racism-accusers are base voters safe for one party or the other, and have very little incentive to appeal to the base of the opposite party. For this reason, it is very rare for political campaigns to try to disprove or deny outrageous accusations, it is simply more effective to marginalize the opposition as agreeing with them and appeal to the swing vote that actually MATTERS. In light of this, Obama's killing of the birther issue, which I realize happened after your post, has done his own campaign a huge disfavor and proven that he is the most inept politician in question. It still won't promote Republican unity, but it takes away easy mudslinging ammunition, and seeing as any "accomplishment" Obama might boast of will alienate as many swing votes as it brings in, negative campaigning is his only hope.

    That brings me to the "rift" and the parade of clown candidates you derided. The division is certainly a reality, but it has been for many months and the birther issue was a drop in the bucket. Stalwart conservative votes are safe for the Republicans even if Jesus himself ran on the Democrat tikcet, so if a waffly candidate like Romney or even Bachmann were to get the nomination, they would have a significant chance of winning because the conservative base would still vote for them and enough of the swing hates Obama to vote against him for a somewhat similar candidate. On the other hand, the Obama-hating swing votes would still be reluctant for a Santorum or Pawlenty, giving Obama SOME hope.


  2. However, your argument based on this that no one worthwhile can "step up" ignores a myriad of possibilities. For starters, intelligent politicians (unlike Obama) realize that in the modern political climate of almost solely negative campaigning, it is far more effective to jump in the race last. Obama is a budget juggernaut and the clowns on the right are professional hecklers; it would be silly to give them time and opportunity to wail on you. Intelligent candidates are using the age old Churchill strategy of "let them eat each other," waiting to pounce on them and throw everything they said back in their faces. Santorum or Trump making this mistake doesn't surprise me, but Obama's ineptitude once again makes me wonder if the president of the Young Democrats club at his daughter's middle school is secretly running his campaign. I'm of the firm opinion that the Republican 2012 nominee has not yet begun a serious campaign, and if I had to make a prediction, it would be Mike Huckabee.

    There are also more drastic possibilities. The nomination of a stalwart conservative may cause a formal Republican party split where a significant minority defects from the convention to nominate an alternative candidate, creating a brief 3-party system - this has happened several times in US history. By the same mechanism, Obama's apparent political deathwish makes the possibility of a Democratic split more likely every day - a true left candidate like Sanders, Kucinich, or Weiner challenging for the nomination may well deteriorate the party even before the convention. But, party splits are base splits that almost invariably guarantee victory for the party that is still intact, giving seasoned politicians reason to wait things out and see if such drastic risks can be avoided. For anyone who is wondering, a double-split into 4 resulting parties has only occurred once in our history, right before the Civil War.

    On a separate note of punching holes in popular nonsense, it is hilarious how the blogpost you cite to deride Bachmann's ignorance of history is as inaccurate as she is. The age-old racism accusations against the Founding Fathers are ignorance at its finest. Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were vehement abolitionists - this is evident if you read the Federalist Papers or documentation of the Second Continental Congress. The signing of the Declaration of Independence almost fell through because this faction insisted on eliminating slavery in the resulting country, but in the end had to cave to the South or abandon independence altogether. The 3/5 compromise was a similar caving to get the Constitution ratified, and "dehumanizing" as it sounds, the *abolitionists* wanted the slaves to count as 0; the slaves couldn't vote anyway and this would result in less representation for their owners. Assuming they were pro-slavery because they owned slaves is like calling libertarians hypocrites for driving on public roads when the State monopoly destroys any possibility of a privatized alternative. The economy of the late 1700s made it very difficult for a landowner/ politician to get along without slaves (slavery made free labor costs outrageous), and Jefferson/Adams/Franklin were all Northerners who did in fact abolish slavery in the North, ending their own right to own slaves. Sure, "working until it was abolished" was a statement worthy of Dan Quayle, but Jefferson nevertheless dealt slavery a crushing blow in 1807 as President by banning the importation of new slaves, which did in fact ensure the freedom of black immigrants following that policy change, although they by no means had equal rights to white immigrants. The pro-slavery Founding Fathers - most notably Edward Rutledge and Dr. Lyman Hall - were also important historical contributors, but no one in modern politics quotes them, EVER. So, Bachmann may be an idiot, but the "racist" hyperbole in response to anyone quoting Jefferson or Adams still needs to come off the stove - it's burnt.