August 13, 2009
Birthers damage conservatism
Farther back than even I can remember there occurred a national uproar concerning fluoridation. During the 1950s fluoride was being added to the water supply across the country in hopes of strengthening teeth and improving dental health. As little as one part fluoride added to a million parts water could cut tooth decay by as much as 40%. Furthermore, the effect was permanent -- people brought up in areas with fluoridated water remained resistant to decay their entire lives.
But the late 1950s had a distinct paranoid streak. It was the height of the Cold War, the years of Sputnik, Rudolf Abel, and the brutally suppressed Hungarian Revolution. Unintended responses to any such projects as fluoridation were to be expected, and that's what happened. The more excitable elements of America's right got it into their heads that this was a conspiracy to poison Americans, a conspiracy plotted and carried out by -- you guessed it -- the communists. It's unclear what kind of damage fluoridation was supposed to cause, but that didn't matter. People were putting chemicals in the water, and that was all they had to hear. (We see the same thinking in environmentalist panics today.)
Of course there was nothing to it. The sinister forces out to impose fluoridation on a helpless America included the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, and Boards of Health across the country, none of whom had any detectable connection with the Kremlin. But that cut no ice, fluoridated or otherwise, with fluoridation opponents. It had become an idée fixe, one that had attained a life of its own, and continued rolling on despite evidence or lack of it.
There was one sense in which fluoridation caused considerable damage -- to American conservatism. The two decades following the mid-50s comprised the legacy media's golden age, when the Big Three networks, the daily newspapers, and the two wire services acted as the sole sources of information for most of the country. There was no Internet, no talk radio. If mass media made a particular connection, then that connection was made with finality. And the connection they made was conservative = fluoridation nut. There was even a stereotyped character to personalize the message: the "little old lady in tennis shoes", querulously following candidates around asking crazy questions about the water supply.
The fixation was at last immortalized by Stanley Kubrick in his masterly political satire, Dr. Strangelove. Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) sent his entire nuclear-armed B-52 wing against the USSR. Why? Squadron Leader Mandrake (Peter Sellers) wants to know. "Fluoridation, Mandrake!" The commies drink only vodka, never water, while poisoning little kid's ice cream, all for the purpose of sapping the nation's vital bodily fluids. Are you convinced yet?
All this was occurring when people like William F. Buckley, James Burnham, and Barry Goldwater were doing yeoman's work in rebuilding the conservative movement. The fluoridation panic no doubt set them back several years. The sad part of it is that conservatives did it to themselves. Gripped by uncontrollable hysteria, they shot themselves in the foot, and then handed the gun to the liberal media and told them to shoot the other one.
And today it's happening all over again.
As you may have guessed, we're talking about the birth certificate. For those who have just gotten back from an expedition to Saturn, here's a brief explanation of the birth certificate controversy:
That's the argument. And what's the evidence for this, you ask? There isn't any. (Yes, I'm aware of the Mombasa birth certificate that popped up last week in the hands of a -- ahem -- California lawyer. In fact, I predicted it two days earlier. Anybody who believes in that thing had better not open any e-mails headed "Nigerian President's Office".) The sole piece of evidence is a negative: the Obama campaign failed to release a legible copy of the certificate. From that single act all else flows.
We're supposed to believe that the legibility issue is open and shut. But it is no such thing. There's one fact about Obama that is undebateable: he's not the reincarnation of Machiavelli. He is, as has been said before on this site, a flake. He's the eternal protégé who never has to admit to a mistake and so never learns to do things right. We've seen this repeatedly since January 20th. We've seen it with the stimulus. We've seen it with North Korea and Iran. We've seen it with the Honduras crisis. We've seen it with the Gates incident. We're seeing it now with ObamaCare. So the question is, why couldn't it have happened the same way with the birth certificate?
Of course it could, exactly as follows: after the Obamoids dithered over it, the same way they dither over every last thing, a campaign flunky ordered another campaign flunky to procure a copy of the certificate and send it out. So they did -- a bad copy, with important features almost illegible. In doing so, they created a never-ending controversy and handed the American right a banana peel that it could slip on as often as it desired to.
Looking at the Obama record, it is exactly what might be expected. This is a guy who messes up everything important, who thinks he doesn't have to take any of that stuff seriously, who delegates to halfwit cronies, and who has been allowed to glide on it his entire career. If he'd come out in good time, with a great-looking copy, that would have been suspicious. Because it would not have been Obama. But this... it's Barack H. Obama to the core. (And why doesn't he release another, clearer copy, you ask? We turn now to Napoleon: "Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake." Even Obama gets that one.)
For a couple of months late last summer, concern with the birth certificate might have been justified. That ended when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Unless you believe that John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas are "in on it", which, I'm afraid, some of the more frantic Birther elements do.
It's easy to understand the frustration feeding this obsession, the yearning for a Hollywood ending - Obama stumbles from the White House into a limo which then sets out for the plane that will return him to his "true" homeland. (Something like the ending of another paranoid classic, Seven Days in May). But that's not what's happening. What we're seeing instead is a replay of the fluoridation fiasco. The conservative movement is being held up to ridicule by the likes of Jon Stewart, Chris Matthews, and Anderson Cooper. "Birther" is turning into a dismissive epithet, one that's been expanded to include everyone in the center right and anyone who opposes Obama. This amounts to a bounty for the Left, enabling them to distract attention from the Messiah's massive and continuing errors. From our perspective it's a loser.
The sense of frustration is also misplaced. It's based on the premise that Obama is invulnerable -- his charm, background, and political dominance provide him with an immunity above and beyond that of the average politician. But is this true? Not from what we've seen lately. In recent weeks, the defiance displayed at hundreds of town hall meetings (a phenomenon that Patrick Henry and John Adams would have understood), the cowardice of Democratic reps unwilling to meet their constituents, the accompanying violence by Obama supporters have given a mortal wound to ObamaCare, and perhaps the administration as a whole. It's not so much the emperor having no clothes as the flashy suit having nobody inside it.
This has been underlined by his response: the contemptuous dismissal of middle Americans as shills for special interests. The call for universal snitching. The "shut your mouths" speech. Obama, by his own actions, has revealed himself for what he is: a man in way over his head, who is never, ever going to get back to the surface. Obama went into office with more good will than any man since FDR, and he threw it away. He will not get it back.
The Birther "controversy" offers him an opportunity to label his opposition as wackballs and fanatics, people no balanced individual would have anything to with. This has worked before -- in the 50s, anyone with concern over the Soviets was labeled a "McCarthyite", ten years later, Barry Goldwater, the Senate's honest man, was portrayed as a lunatic yearning to get his finger on the button. And did we mention fluoridation? In each case, the left's campaign was bolstered and made credible by misbehavior on the right from people who didn't know when to quit.
I'll be frank with you. I don't want the Birthers to be right. I don't want a real certificate to show up. No -- I want him in for the entire four years. I want him humiliated, and I want the ideology he represents, that mockery of American liberalism made up of equal parts fascism, Marxism, and wish-fulfillment daydreams undermined totally and completely. We need Obama. We need him to flush the alien and dangerous notion of the god-emperor -- the American Caesar -- from this country's politics. We need him to destroy the concept of liberalism as a savior religion. We need him to assure that this country's elites, who have bought into this grotesque primitivism, are embarrassed as thoroughly as they deserve.
The Birther illusion stands in the way of this. There is no beneficial aspect to this fixation. It confuses the issues, uselessly alarms the ignorant and ill-informed, wastes energy and effort, and provides valuable ammunition to the liberal media. Nothing good can come of it. It's time to let it go.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.