The False Equivalence of the Birther vs. Truther Poll
Among the most discussed if least enlightening polls in recent months is the PPP survey revealing that Republican "birthers" far outnumber Democratic "truthers." That is, there are many more delusional right-wingers who doubt President Obama was born in the United States than confused left-wingers who believe President Bush allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen. But that predictable finding largely misses the point. As the endless media coverage of the legions of Republicans politicians endorsing the birther fraud shows, the supposed equivalence is a false one.
Over at the Washington Independent, David Weigel sums up the data eviscerating the conservative refrain that ardent Republicans questioning Obama's Hawaiian birth are akin to 9/11 conspiracy theorists:
Forty-two percent of Republicans say President Obama was born outside the United States, while only 37 percent say he was born here. Twenty-five percent of Democrats say President George W. Bush let 9/11 happen, while 63 percent say he didn't. Sixty-two percent of "liberals" say no, as do 62 percent of people who say they voted for Obama.
But left unmentioned is that these two political fantasies differ not just in degree but in kind. Only one party - the Republican Party - tried to perpetuate the mythology and willfully deceive the American people.
On that point, the evidence is clear. In the wake of Barack Obama's historic election, 12 House Republicans co-sponsored legislation (H.R. 1503) mandating future presidential candidates make public their birth certificates. In interviews and public statements, many of the GOP's leading lights refused to denounce the birther sham or chose to give it aid and comfort. (Among those who later claimed to recant were Ohio's Jean Schmidt, Missouri's Roy Blunt and Louisiana's Charles Boustany, the man who gave the GOP response to President Obama's health care address to Congress.) In the Senate, Oklahoma's Senator James Inhofe, who six years ago famously called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," came to the defense of the Obama birth certificate crowd:
"They have a point. I don't discourage it...But I'm going to pursue defeating [Obama] on things that I think are very destructive to America."
But it's not just Republican politicians giving life to the Birther movement. In their endless search for entertainment - and ratings, the mainstream media has given endless airtime to the charlatans of the right. In addition to the Republican propaganda appendage that is Fox News, CNN and MSNBC featured the birther litigation machine, Orly Taitz. And despite the debunking of the ploy in 2008 by FactCheck and Politifact (which declared the Obama birth certificate denial a "Pants on Fire" lie), ABC, CBS and NBC all prominently featured the non-issue over the past weeks and months.
At the end of the day, the Birther and Truther "movements" are alike in the much the same way that bricks float. While the latter conspiracy theory is rightly confined to the fringes of American political discourse, the former is given life by the Republican Party and its willing executioners in the media. The result is that Birtherism is a mass delusion (if primarily a Southern one), but one that sadly we're still taking about.