Alex Knepper and Cinzia Croce from New American Perspective debate who is responsible for the continued existence of Birtherism in American Politics.
Why Won’t Birtherism Die?
By: Alex Knepper
America’s Worst Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a petty despot with a cruel streak to rival that of Roy Moore, has jumped into the Arizona Senate race. It is — or should be — common knowledge that Arpaio wasted five years blowing through taxpayer money on a wild goose chase for President Barack Obama’s ‘real’ birth certificate (the one produced by the White House is fake, of course; any evidence that Obama was born in Hawaii is to be rejected a priori). Arpaio just yesterday declared once again that the former president’s birth certificate is ‘phony.’ Why today, with Obama out of office forever, is Arpaio still fixated on the ‘Birther’ question? What difference, at this point, does it make?
The prevailing narrative on the right about President Obama is that he was a leftist infiltrator who doesn’t love his country and is bitter and resentful toward white people. Let us recall what Marco Rubio was repeating as Chris Christie murdered his campaign during that New Hampshire debate two years ago: the problem with Obama wasn’t, as John McCain alleged in 2008, that he was inexperienced and unready for the job on Day One, he said. No: the problem was that Obama knew exactly what he was doing, and he did it because, in a word, he doesn’t love America. For Sen. Rubio, as for Fox News, Breitbart, talk radio charlatans like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, President Trump, etc., Obama wanted to ‘fundamentally transform’ this nation the image of leftist ideology because he’s not a ‘real’ American, whether literally or ideologically.
Of course, not all right-wingers believe Obama was born in Kenya; I would venture to say no more than a third really buy into it hook, line, and sinker. But most of the rest are largely sympathetic to the idea that there is something fundamentally ‘un-American’ about him, and are happy to excuse Birtherism because they understand the origin of the impulse to believe. The particulars vary from right-winger to right-winger: some think Obama is driven primarily by anti-white racism, some think he rejects America for purely abstract, ideological reasons, some think he is driven by a desire for revenge for colonialism, given his father’s African roots, and so on. But all, including the president, agree that Obama is in some decisive sense not a ‘real’ American, and think it is incredibly important that this is understood by the public. Some simply take this a step further than others and figure that someone who hates America as much as Obama does could not possibly be an American citizen at all. If they can demonstrate he was born in Kenya and is not an American citizen, then his legacy can be thoroughly repudiated as illegitimate.
It is questionable whether Arpaio will win the Senate nomination — and if he does, his defeat is virtually guaranteed. But his continued insistence on the fundamental illegitimacy of the Obama presidency should be a stark reminder of what put President Trump, who rose to prominence politically on the back of the very same topic, in the White House.
Sorry Alex, It’s The Left That Won’t Let Birtherism Die
By: Cinzia Croce
During the height of Birtherism among Republicans, I was active in GOP politics including serving as precinct chair. I remember engaging in many heated discussions (I have witnesses) trying to convince fellow Republicans to drop the notion that President Obama was not born in Hawaii. Not only independent and corroborating facts did not support the theory that he was born outside the United States – I would argue – but it was a counterproductive line of attack. Yet the fever persisted and did not break until, ironically, Donald Trump jumped into the fray. Once he forced Obama to release the long form of his birth certificate, the subject disappeared from conversations and email chains. There were a few diehards (as the always are) but the overwhelming majority of Republicans moved on – something the Left has yet to do.
In his article, my colleague Alex Knepper, asked the question “Why today, with Obama out of office forever, is Arpaio still fixated on the ‘Birther’ question?” It seems to me that it was Chris Cuomo who was fixated on Birtherism. It was Cuomo who raised the question while Arpaio seemed reluctant to address the issue and only responded after being pushed. In Alex’s world, unless someone prostrates before Obama, self-flagellates for offending him and begs forgiveness, he or she will be deemed to be “fixated on Birtherism”. The same attitude that was displayed during the last presidential campaign when, after Trump declared that he believed Obama was born in Hawaii, the Left just couldn’t let it go. “He didn’t apologize”, they said and added “Just proves he’s still a racist.”
Alex’s argument rests on the assumption that there was no basis for any rational person to believe that Obama “was a leftist infiltrator who doesn’t love his country and is bitter and resentful toward white people”. Had right wingers not bought into such a ridiculous narrative, they would have never embraced, to varying degrees, Birtherism. Unfortunately for Alex, Obama’s own actions and words gave rise to the narrative.
Let’s set aside the inaccurate (he was born in America) characterization of Obama as an infiltrator and focus on the rest of Alex’s statement. It was Obama who proudly declared his desire to “fundamentally transform America“. Perhaps it was a poor choice of words but they were his words and not something concocted by deranged right wingers. It was Obama, in a 2001 interview, who chastised the Warren Court for not venturing into issues of “redistribution of wealth and more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society”. He lamented the Constitution placing limits on what government can do – he called it a “charter of negative liberties” – and expressed a preference for a document that lays out “what government must do on your behalf”. The views he articulated are standard left wing language and stances, is it unreasonable to believe Obama was a leftist who wanted to transform America?
As far Obama not loving his country, his pastor and mentor, Jeremiah Wright, routinely denounced America from the pulpit. He referred to Obama’s country as the U.S. of KKK, blamed it for the misery of the third world, attributed 9/11 to the “America’s chickens coming home to roost” and urged not to bless America but to damn it. The Left has summarily labeled anyone who opposes the removal of Confederate statues as a white supremacist but deems outrageous to suggest that Obama did not love America even though he sat in Reverend Wright’s church not for 20 days or 20 weeks or 20 months but for 20 YEARS! On having an animosity towards whites, again Obama’s own words betrayed him. While defending his mentor’s racist, hateful sermons, he characterized his grandmother as a “typical white person” because she feared black men and used racial epithets. If someone suggests that racism comes naturally to white people, is it wholly irrational to think there might be some animosity towards them?
It is the Left that has latched on to Birtherism and just won’t let it go. For them it has become a shorthand way to discern and label someone a racist. No need for long questionnaires. Just one question, “Are you a Birther?” If the answer is yes, yup a racist. Never mind that president Chester A. Arthur – a white man – was the first victim of Birtherism. He was alleged to be born in Canada and not Vermont as he claimed. It also provides the Left and quick and sure way to put establishment Republicans on the defensive. “Do you condemn (fill in the blank) for being a Birther?” The usual Republican will hurridly reply yes before running to the hills. Above all, the Left will never let go of Birtherism because it allows white progressives to virtual signal. Acting personally offended by any suggestion that Obama was born in Kenya is a way for them to communicate to their non-white brethren how much they care about the scourge of racism and that they are not ‘your typical white person’.
Alex Knepper, editor-in-chief and co-founder of New American Perspective, is a political writer whose interests span from foreign policy to education to philosophy. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from American University and an M.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College – Annapolis. He has been featured or excerpted in national outlets such as the New York Times, NPR, FiveThirtyEight, and the Huffington Post.
Cinzia Croce, co-founder of New American Perspective, is a former political activist and regular political blogger. Born in Italy, she holds a BA in Anthropology and an MBA from the University of Texas – Dallas. She heads her own Texas-based regulatory consulting firm, but her true passion is writing about American politics and policy.
Image: Photo of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa speaking at the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit by Gage Skidmore combined with a photo of a billboard challenging the validity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0).