Friday, January 28, 2011


Seung Min Kim Moderator :

Hawaii lawmakers want to encourage so-called birthers to back off their requests for President Obama’s birth certificate by charging a $100 fee to anyone who asks for a copy.

The bill proposed by a group of Hawaii Dems would allow the state’s department of health to charge the fee when providing a copy of a birth certificate “of a person who is a candidate for, or elected to, a public office that requires the person to be a United States citizen.” This move comes as an Arizona lawmaker is reviving the birther debate in that state by introducing a bill requiring any and all candidates to provide an original long-form birth certificate with details such as date/place of birth, name of the hospital, the attending physician and signatures of witnesses. Similar legislation did not get support last year.

Will the Hawaii legislature’s measures squelch the birthers once and for all, or will action such as that of Arizona continue to keep the debate alive? And why won’t the issue of whether President Obama was born in the U.S. go away?

State Rep. Daniel Patterson Arizona House of Representatives (D) :

For the vast majority of American voters and state legislators, the extreme fringe "birther" issue has never been alive.

The wacky GOP bill in Phoenix is a waste of time and resources during a critical session when they should be joining Democrats on priorities of improving jobs and the economy, education, public safety, health care and state budget.

Mike Fraioli President, Fraioli & Associates :

The proposals from the Hawaii Legislature and the Arizona Legislature are just what the birthers are looking for – attention. The more controversial the better. They need to make themselves out as the victims. Controversy is good for the birther folks. They don’t want the Obama birth issue to go away because it is a huge moneymaker for them – plain and simple.

Stuart Gottlieb Director of policy studies, the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University :

The "birther issue" won't die because if it did Chris Matthews and MSNBC (and POLITICO apparently) would have lost one of their favorite "look how crazy the right wing in this country is" tropes.

Aside from an unnamed and irrelevant "Arizona lawmaker" how many actual "birthers" are there in this country? And how many fewer would there be if the media did not try to stir this absurd issue up at every possible turn?

There are plenty of legitimate issues that tens of millions of mainstream moderates and conservatives have with Obama that have nothing to do with his place of birth -- such as his 2011 State of the Union that actually spent more time on new government spending than on solving our nation's fiscal crisis. I have an idea ... why don't we focus on something like that?


David Biespiel American poet, director, Attic Institute :

Americans love conspiracy theories. A significant percentage of Americans does not believe results of the Warren Commission report and does not believe that NASA landed men on the moon and returned them safely to Earth; a significant portion of Americans believes that Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11 were allowed to happen (I faced a World Trade Center 7 truther just the other night!) and that global climate change is a hoax; significant percentage of Americans believes that not only Elvis but also Princess Diana faked their own deaths. And what about that shroud from Turin? The birth facts of Barack Obama? That's B-team conspiracy business.


State Rep. James Byrd Wyoming House of Representatives (D) :

Because he is black, his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and certain national media outlets keep giving this people a platform. My advice is 'Get over it."


Brendan Nyhan Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research, University of Michigan :

The bill in Hawaii is unlikely to reduce the prevalence of the birther myth. In fact, it may contribute to conspiracy theories by making it seem like the authorities there have something to hide. The underlying problem is the difficulty of convincing people who are predisposed to believe a false claim that it is untrue. My research with Jason Reifler shows that corrective information often fails to reduce misperceptions and sometimes makes them worse among the most susceptible ideological group. This pattern is the reason that President Obama is still trying to debunk misinformation about health care reform, which are equally difficult to correct. As a result, we shouldn't expect the birther misperception to go away anytime soon.


Charles Walcott Professor of Political Science, Virginia Tech :

For some people, anything that is generally accepted and accords with evidence and common sense just can't be true. Thus no evidence, not even a videotape of the birth itself, will suffice. This is the kind of story that really belonged in the Weekly World News, alongside pictures of Satan and three-headed cows.


Michael Benjamin Former member of the New York State Assembly (D) :

The birthers are a fringe element of American society, similar to those who think the CIA killed President Kennedy and that Area 51 contains the remains of UFO aliens. Lawmakers, such as the Arizona legislator, only give their ravings the veneer of legitimacy.

The birthers and their supporters won't go away until they overcome their inherent racism that doesn't allow them to accept a non-white president of the United States. For them and their ilk, race remains the number one problem of the 21st century. The rest of America must sweep these people and their un-American beliefs onto the trash heap of history.

Christine Pelosi Attorney, author and Democratic activist :

Birthers will never stop trying to cast President Obama as "The Other." From summer 2008 when I received mass e-mails from birthers to DNC members telling us that then-Sen. Barack Obama should be impeached because he was not a U.S. citizen, they've railed against the legitimacy of his qualifications to hold office. Birthers are the loudest voices in the chorus of anti-Obama critics, but they are not alone -- they gain aid and comfort from those calling him a Muslim as if it were a crime or railing against his "bowing" or sniffing about his insufficient American exceptionalism or saying he doesn't love the Constitution.

Obama will thrive despite the birthers - but I'm not so sure that's true for young people growing up in an America where discrimination defers their dreams and possibilities. Young people have a double-digit generation gap favoring Democrats (22 percent in 2008; 17 percent in 2010) in part because we reject efforts to divide Americans by origin, race, color, and creed. If not on its own demerits, then for the sake of closing the generation gap and winning elections, Republicans should renounce the birther nonsense.

Garry South Democratic consultant, The Garry South Group :

The birthers are no doubt the same people who think the first moon landing was faked on a Hollywood sound stage, and that Elvis is still alive and hiding in Bermuda. Let's face the facts: If Obama were not our first black president, and our first with an African father, this idiotic school of thought would have been laughed off the planet. To deny that there is a racial element in the birthers' allegations regarding Obama's place of birth is to deny the obvious. At least the proposed Hawaii bill would require the birthers to put up money to engage in their idiocy.

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