I wish to assist in the currently ubiquitous endeavor of understanding what, exactly, is wrong with the minds of conservatives. Why do they believe crazy things? Why don't facts, logic, and evidence convince them of anything? In this endeavor, I will journey into the heart of crazy darkness: the birther movement. Follow me on my journey into the very mind of a birther -- mine.
At the outset, I must confess that I was not a full-blooded birther. When asked if I thought Barack Obama was born in the US (at the annual Birther Convention), I said "yes," to a volley of hoots and howls. But when asked if I definitely believed he was born on US soil, I said "no," and they let me enjoy the hors d'oeuvres. That made me just a BJG (Birther, Junior Grade). I thought it possible that he was born elsewhere, like Kenya, a belief held by only 62% of Americans at the time.
How could I believe such a thing, despite all the evidence to the contrary? All I know about facts and evidence and stuff is what I learned about the scientific method in grade school. And learning Euclid's geometry from Jesuits and then the hard sciences to get through engineering school. And having to do mathematical proofs in high school, college, and graduate school. But I never took a philosophy course. Heck, I didn't know what "epistemology" meant until I was in my 40s. Even now, I get it mixed up with "etymology," "entomology," or "episiotomy" more than half the time.
So I will try to explain my stupid, conservative view (redundant, I know) of epistemology -- with the use of a poker analogy.
Let's say the poker hand comes down to the final call and the only ones left in the game are you and a fellow named Hussein. You have a flush, and you lay down your hand for all to see. Hussein says, "I have a full house" and rakes in the pot. You say, "Wait a minute; let's see it."
Here is where it gets interesting. The other players, those who dropped, start calling you stupid because "a full house beats a flush." You say, "I know that, but I want to see his full house." The others say, "You already saw him, just before you raised." You say, "No, I mean with my eyes." And they keep repeating "a full house beats a flush."
Hussein, being above the fray, says "Don't get all flustered you guys. I have jacks over threes." And he lays down two jacks and two threes -- four of his five cards.
The other players say, "See, he told you he has a full house. Why do you keep doubting that?" You say, "But that's not his whole hand; right now it's only two pair, and my flush beats two pair."
The others then lose it. "He showed you four of his cards! All the evidence points to a full house, just like he says. There is no evidence whatsoever that he does not have a full house. What does it take to convince you?"
After two and a half hours of arguing between you and the players who dropped, Hussein laughs and finally flips down his fifth card. It is a jack. He really did have a full house (assuming he didn't find that third jack in the deck while the rest of you were arguing).
Were you a nut for wanting to see all five of his cards?
Everyone else says "yes." And by "everyone" I include not only all Democrats, but also Ann Coulter, Glen Beck, Michelle Malkin, David Horowitz, Iowahawk, and a lot of really snarky people you thought were your friends. They are still saying "a full house beats a flush" and laughing at you.
Too abstract? OK, let's talk about the evidence for Obama's birthplace. For each piece of evidence that he was born in Hawaii, I will provide what, in the mind of a BJG, is a plausible explanation for that same evidence had he not been born in Hawaii.
Birth announcement in the local Hawaiian newspaper. His grandparents phoned it in to the newspaper. They were either proud of their new grandson, or were concerned that he be considered a US citizen to enjoy the benefits thereof.
A Hawaiian Birth Certificate. Oddly enough, Hawaii issues birth certificates for children not born there. If you believe otherwise, please explain this Hawaiian law.
"Certificates for children born out of State. (a) Upon application of an adult or the legal parents of a minor child, the director of health shall issue a birth certificate for such adult or minor, provided that proof has been submitted to the director of health that the legal parents of such individual while living without the Territory or State of Hawaii had declared the Territory or State of Hawaii as their legal residence for at least one year immediately preceding the birth or adoption of such child."
In the mind of a BJG, the repetition of the phrase "but I have a copy of his certified birth certificate" is akin to repetition of the phrase "a full house beats a flush" in the above example. It is true, but irrelevant. If a kid not born in Hawaii can get a Hawaiian birth certificate, then the existence of a bonafide, certified Hawaiian birth certificate does not prove a kid was born in Hawaii. At least that's what I recall from my Euclidean geometry days.
Hawaiian officials say they've seen his long form birth certificate. So what? See above; a kid can get a Hawaiian birth certificate without being born in the US. And if you'll notice, no such official was ever quoted saying something like "I've seen it, and it says he was born in a hospital in Honolulu." They would spend more time calling birthers names than simply telling us what they saw on that birth certificate.
Obama's name is on a list in Hawaii's vital records office. If your name shows up on that list because you were issued a birth certificate, see above. Let me repeat: the mere existence of a Hawaiian birth certificate does not prove birth in the US. You can prove with metaphysical certitude that Obama has a Hawaiian birth certificate, but it does not prove he was born there. Get it? I know a full house beats a flush, but I want to see the full house. I wanted to see the long form to see where he was born, not the certificate itself. At least that's how we BJGs thought at the time.
Obama's Kenyan grandmother, who supposedly started this racist rumor, said he was born in America. The really, really complicated explanation for that? She changed her story when she heard it was causing her grandson trouble. Besides, I speak neither Kenyan nor Austrian. All I know is what the CNN anchor said some translator said Obama's grandmother said. CNN is a rock-solid source of news for some people, but we BJGs need something more solid, Shep Smith at least. (Inside joke for us birthers.)
But people in Hawaii knew Obama and remembered him. Sure, they knew him in high school, after he returned from Indonesia. Some might even remember him from infancy or childhood. But anyone who might have been at his birth, other than Barack Jr. himself, is now dead.
The whole thing requires a conspiracy so vast... Of all people, Glenn Beck said that! Here's a scenario to explain this vast conspiracy: Barack Sr. wanted his son born on Kenyan soil out of some kind of national or tribal pride and flew himself and Obama's mother to Kenya shortly before the birth, and then flew them all back to Hawaii shortly after. Is that so implausible, given neither of his parents could seem to keep the same address for more than about six months at a time?
None of this is important. Um, it's a constitutional requirement. Not only is it in Article II, Section 1, it is also in the 20th Amendment.
"If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified ..." [My emphasis.]
A BJG like me thinks that clause should imply that someone in authority check out the president-elect's bonafides. But as it turned out, no one checked them out, before, during or after the election. At least no one in an official position to do so. There is no process for ensuring that a person is a natural born citizen before becoming President (other than someone with standing, a hard thing to prove, bringing suit). BJGs think that is odd.
To add insult to injury, if anyone even tried to initiate due process ensuring that presidential candidates of the future would have to suffer such indignities as showing ID, they were hooted down as stupid birthers. Even the Governor of Arizona, the one who defied the Obama administration by having the nerve to have its police inquire into the immigration status of those they arrest, vetoed such birther legislation.
This is a racist charge; no one ever questioned a white man's constitutional qualifications for high office. As a matter of fact, it has happened to two white males, both Republicans, just since 2000. John McCain had to go to court to prove his natural born-ness. You might know John McCain. Both his parents were US citizens. In fact, his father and grandfather were Admirals in the U.S. Navy. John himself was a decorated American war hero. You can read the judge's opinion on his natural born-ness here. By the way, John McCain was the guy who ran against Obama. Dick Cheney, another white male and Republican, had to prove in court that he was constitutionally qualified to be Vice President. Some Democrats at the time said his candidacy violated the 12th Amendment (there they go again with that unimportant Constitution thing). Unlike the birthers, they actually got a hearing in court. You can read about that court ruling in the New York Times.
I've heard there were other cases, going back to the 19th century, but being a BJG I thought if guys like McCain and Cheney (white, male, Republican, and recent) had to prove in court that they were constitutionally qualified to be President and Vice President, it was not unreasonable for Barack Obama to have the prove the same thing.
That's about it. The above is all I really have, or had, to cast doubt on the exact whereabouts of Obama's birthplace. Now his long-form has showed up and it says he was born in the Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu. And Fox News' document expert says it's legit. I've seen all five cards of the poker hand now. I can now say I definitely believe Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. was born in the US.
(As a mere BJG, I am agnostic on what "natural born" means. I'm satisfied if he was born on US soil. It would be nice, though, if Congress would be so kind as to define that term, for future use. Maybe when they get around to defining the qualification process. Another inside joke.)
I went from believing the preponderance of the evidence said Obama was born in the US (a mere 50% probability threshold) to beyond a reasonable doubt (a 99% probability). And for that, I'm considered crazy. (Actually, I was about 80% sure before April 2011.) I'm sure everyone else was 100% certain since 2008. I sure would like to be that smart and fact-based.
But you know what else? I'm not convinced that man's use of fossil fuels, or sheep farts, have an appreciable, much less a catastrophic, affect on our planet's climate. Still crazy, after all these years of evidence.
Randall Hoven can be followed on Twitter.