Before dismissing or endorsing any group, whether Tea Partiers, Black Panthers, Muslims, Democrats, or Republicans, it helps if both you and your listeners agree what those groups actually stand for.
I was always under the impression that “Birthers” were a fringe group that for reasons unclear to me doubted the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate and believed him to have been born elsewhere, thus making him ineligible for the presidency under the constitution. Having seen his (short form) birth certificate, and knowing of no reason to doubt, I easily dismissed them. I knew that the state of Hawaii vouched for it, and newspaper archives corroborated it, and while it is always possible that there may have been a coverup, I saw no reason to pursue further. At some point, one just has to accept the evidence and stop digging. Since he was already president by the time I first heard of the Birthers, I thought it sort of a moot point anyways. More than anything else, I thought of it as a distraction from more important issues, such as Obama’s economic policies, and a way of trying to make the Tea Partiers look bad (many try to equate the two groups). I was not aware of the difference between the long and short versions of the birth certificate, and had never heard the rumor that he was born in Kenya.
According to the constitution (as I was taught it in high school), the president must be a citizen of the US since birth, and must have been born on US soil. For this reason, I always assumed that presidential candidates automatically submitted their birth certificates when they registered to run for office. I was surprised that this was not the case and that it was only recently that a bill was proposed that, if passed into law, would have made this mandatory. I was even more surprised that so many came out against this bill, claiming it to be racist and anti-Obama. When I recently learned of the difference between the long and short forms, I wondered why Obama didn’t just release the long form to shut up the more reasonable Birthers and put the whole thing to bed. That he refused made even me suspicious, not that he was hiding anything, but that he was stoking the fires of conspiracy theories on purpose.
Nevertheless, I continued to think of Birthers as a sort of crazy fringe group until I heard that only one-third of the American public believed Obama was born inside the US (one-third thought he wasn’t, and one-third didn’t know).
Then I found this. It seems that for this blogger, the issue was never about whether Obama was born here, but about whether both of his parents were US citizens at the time. This does not show up on the short form birth certificate, but does on the long form. I was surprised by this because I had always known that Obama’s father was not a citizen; it wasn’t exactly a secret, and Obama had never denied this. I was also surprised that this would matter, since I had always thought that one merely had to have been born here to be eligible (and be 35 plus years old), having nothing to do with the parents. For this same person, the reason Republican leaders have largely ignored the issue was not that it was seen as a distraction (which was my reason), but because they were afraid of being labeled racists. I had never heard any of these arguments before. From my perspective, it seemed that this individual was from bizzaro world.
To make things even stranger for me, this same person claimed that John McCain was born in Panama – but because both of his parents were US citizens at the time, he was eligible. The story I was familiar with was that John McCain was born in the canal zone, which (before 1999) was US territory, and it was that which made him eligible.
This is not an uncommon phenomenon. It has happened before that just when I think I know what a group is about, I find someone that tells me something completely different.