Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Birthers, and Vague Doubts

I haven’t said much about this topic, as it’s not an issue that means that much to me. As it continues to hang around, however, it deserves comment.

If one looks at the wording of the poll questions on the subject, they are framed in terms of doubt rather than disbelief. Even among the fieriest complainers on right-wing blogs (the ones I see, anyway) there is more emphasis on the fact that Obama can’t seem to be bothered to prove his constitutional eligibility.

Democratic pollster David Beattie conducted a survey last month in one competitive congressional district that found that more than a quarter of independents believed Obama had not proven his natural-born status. The same sentiment was expressed by nearly 6 in 10 Republican women -- a group that Beattie said would be important for a Democratic victory.

He declined to name the district because the polling was private, but said that such questions about Obama's background seemed to be a "proxy" for voters' growing unease with Obama's ambitious agenda, which has included a potential push to create a government-sponsored health insurance plan. (LA Times)

I agree with Beattie’s assessment that the issue is a proxy for a growing number of vaguer discontents about Obama. I doubt the general citizen who spends more of her day concerned with events in her own life than document trails of politicians is convinced that Obama was born elsewhere. Such dark fantasies seem more appropriate to movie plots than to the light of day. Folks think But it is the Constitution, after all, and seems pretty straightforward to rectify, and shouldn’t a president be more…more reassuring about such things?

The Obama defense that the whole idea is ridiculous and the president shouldn’t have to be bothered with addressing every cockamamie rumor about him is a reasonably good point. If the natural-born citizenship were the only question arising, I don’t think it would have legs. But this seems part of a pattern. The resignation of Van Jones stirs up both the old questions about Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright – that Obama has connections to some seriously left-wing people – and to the more recent questions about his actual appointees, revealed to be a remarkably concentrated sample of tax evaders, political threateners, and incompetents. We expect the president to be more reassuring about these issues as well. We don’t want to keep asking “who’s minding the store?”

Most people are willing to accept a decent explanation. Obama was somewhat reassuring that all his radical friends had gone mainstream, and those who hadn’t he was no longer influenced by. His more visible appointees have often had resumes that seemed at least superficially acceptable. Yet in none of these cases did he give a fully adequate response, only a mostly adequate one. Those inclined to doubt his words from the start pointed out weaknesses and discrepancies in his statements. For the rest, it’s easier to believe than to disbelieve, and folks go about their business, filing the incidents under “That’s probably OK.” Yet at some point a voice in one’s brain goes “Y’know, there are an awful lot of probablies in this basket.”

The high-profile events of the summer have only served to reinforce the doubts. Whatever people know about bailouts, stimulus, budget, and now health care, they know that it’s a heckuva lot of money. An unprecedented amount of money. More, much more, than foreign wars cost. People had plenty of doubts how much bang for our buck we were getting for those wars, but at least there were always things we could point to that might justify them. At least we did something against terrorists…at least Saddam’s gone and Iraq has elections…at least there’s been no more attacks…maybe it will all work out okay. But with these new huge sums the reassurance continues to drain. Are the automakers doing better? Weren’t they supposed to be doing better by now? Why hasn’t the stimulus stimulated? Was it supposed to take this long but I missed that part? The off-the-cuff trashing of the Cambridge PD, the stupid interactions with the Russians, the Brits, Hondurans, and the Saudis – all these add to the impression “Is this guy American in the deeper sense of someone who loves this country and wants to fix it? Or is he just trying to remake it?” Any doubts attaching to his origins would likely be a magnet.

I doubt 6 in 10 Republican women in any county in America think Obama was born in Kenya. If someone has numbers that contradict that, send ‘em on. My reading of the sentiment is that people believe he’s being cavalier with American attitudes and rules in general, and wondering if that extends even to our most basic American contract, the Constitution. Politicians are supposed to be bright and snappy about easy constitutional things. It’s a gimme putt. Folks wonder why he can’t be bothered.


Roy Lofquist said...

Death by a thousand cuts.

Donna B. said...

I'm 100% certain Obama was born in Hawaii when the Certificate of Live Birth says he was.

To want more information about that is wandering into Andrew Sullivan-type territory where he wanted to know everything about the Sarah Palin's use of her womb.

However, simply being born in the U.S. does not make one an American of the caliber we expect in a President. His upbringing was uniquely unAmerican and that shows in his inability to understand us.

Bill Clinton was a lefty too, but he understood America to its core. Jimmy Carter didn't (and still doesn't).

I laughed when I read today that Bill Clinton has advised Obama to ignore the Republicans and go for the "gold" in health care reform. Can we say the smarter politician of the two is setting the other up for a fail? Will Hillary run in 2012?

If the "birther" issue is a proxy, it's a lousy one. There's so much more of real substance available for disagreement -- the huge debt and runaway spending resonate with reasonable Americans regardless of political affiliation.

Obama may be awakening a sleeping giant.

karrde said...

For historical purposes, the last President who suffered from public doubts about his place of birth was named Chester Arthur.

At that time, documentation was sketchy-to-nonexistent for almost everyone's birth records.

On the other hand, given the attitudes present in our culture towards Obama, the idea that he isn't that trustworthy tends to gravitate towards the ideas of those who do question his birthplace

I think you're right, AVI. It isn't the specific conspiracy theory, it's the fact that whatever trust there was has vanished.

TakeFlight said...

I guess I have a slightly different attitude about this.

The fact that there is even a question out there is the problem. There should be a simple, authoritative answer. And it shouldn't come from Obama.

What kind of policies will he really enact, what kind of people will he really appoint...these are valid questions but at the end of the day they are all 100% his prerogative now that he is president. Being born in America is not. It's a Constitutional requirement, and for me the doubt is less about "where was Obama really born?" than it is about "who is responsible for checking these things?" and having the assurance that someone, somewhere in government (Supreme Court?) is acting as a trustworthy gatekeeper.

jlbussey said...

What Donna said. However, I don't trust the feds to be a reliable gatekeeper on anything, the bureaucracy, which is supposed to be non-partisan, has taken to playing politics more and more. (I've worked for them for almost 20 years through 4 administrations, so I've seen it up close.)

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Nice post. The Atlantic has taken this up... Maybe it says his parents weren't married or his race is black (or white), something he'd rather not bring up.

I recall seeing him in the Iowa caucus victory. 'They said it couldn't be done,' he said with a look and tone which really laid emphasis on what Shelby Steele has categorized as 'the bargainer' approach. 'You aren't a racist' if you do what I want. Maybe there's an A. Lincoln paraphrase in here somewhere like 'Some people can be satisfied with being not a racist all of the time and all of the people can be satisfied with not being a racist some of the time but not all of the people can be satisfied with being not a racist all of the time.'

Sam L. said...

I think it's the "known unknowns" problem--the lack of records that would be completely unacceptable to the Lap Dog Media in a Repub, but they don't care about in a Dem. "Nothing to see here, just move along." Makes many wonder about the "unknown unknowns."

The intense and continuing investigation of Sarah Palin and Joe The Plumber before her, compared to the intense and continuing lack-of-investigation on The Won, grates on those who think that the Lap Dog Media is the LDM, based on its actions and inactions.

The vague sense of unease gets reinforced. Example: Van Jones.

Retriever said...

Even if he weren't hiding something (which I think he is), the arrogance of his refusal to just satisfy people by showing the required documents just galls me. There was also the whole question of his being registered at that school as an Indonesian citizen and therefore losing his American citizenship.

Can you tell I am not fond of the fellow?

@nooil4pacifists said...

Count me with Donna--especially given that no one has legal "standing" to raise the question in court. But AVI and Beattie are correct about it being a (misguided) proxy for (real) policy disputes.