Friday, December 04, 2009
The Born Insanity
As much as it shouldn't -- as much as I should just chalk it up to a brand of delusion that I'll never be able to successfully confront and vanquish -- for some reason the Sarah Palin Birther thing has been bugging the hell out of me.
I get that Palin is doing little more than playing to her audience; she has, after all, become admirably virtuoso at knowing exactly what to say to her core constituency of resentful, white middle-American doofuses to make them shower her with money and hold her up as some sort of messiah. In that respect, she really does deserve a certain amount of deference from the cynical among the population who purport to know better; she's a bit of hucksterist performance art that even Andy Kaufman wouldn't have been able to pull off. But the thought of Palin -- who opportunist or not has never been the highest-caliber rifle on the rack -- really giving credence to and therefore perpetuating the utterly debunked myth that Barack Obama may not be a U.S. citizen somehow seems, even after all we've seen and heard from her, oddly unfathomable.
I shouldn't be shocked by it -- and yet I am.
But I'm not sure whether it boggles my mind that Palin in particular is ramping up the baseless, paranoid hysteria about the national origins of a sitting President of the United States, or simply the fact that these accusations are still being hurled -- the accusers still indignantly demanding satisfaction -- almost a full year into that president's tenure. For the record, the supposed question of the legitimacy of Barack Obama's birth certificate was settled, for anyone paying attention, in August of last year. That's when staffers from the Annenberg Political Fact Check, a strictly non-partisan organization, set out to either prove or debunk the rumor that Obama wasn't born in the United States and reported that they had "seen, touched, examined and photographed" his original birth certificate, complete with raised seal and a stamp from the Hawaii state registrar.
Obviously, this fact -- and that's what it is, for those who still recognize such notions, a fact -- has never been enough to deter the rabid True Believers in the illegitimacy of Barack Obama. Equally obviously, this is because they want more than anything for their delusion to be true; they know that Obama's a foreign socialist, Marxist interloper who's come to indoctrinate and enslave America's children and kill all our grandmas, even if they can't prove it -- and what that does is create a cognitive dissonance so great, even among people who don't have a whole lot going on cognitively, that to reconcile it they have to create a bulletproof rationale that will buttress their paranoia. No one -- not even one of those people waiting in line to see Sarah Palin who couldn't name any specific policy she espoused -- wants to admit that he or she is a blithering idiot. Ask any Birther one-on-one about the supposed Obama nationality "controversy" and he or she will often launch into a calm and very serious-sounding speech casting half-truths, wild speculation, conspiracy theory and plain old wishful thinking as fact; it'll sound completely reasonable except for being thoroughly devoid of reason.
I once mentioned a quote by Christopher Hitchens that I love; it was in reference to religion and faith but, not coincidentally, can easily be applied to any argument based on something other than solid fact: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." In other words, from a logical standpoint anyway, it's easy to refute the ramblings of the implacably faithful -- whether their cause is God or the intransigent belief that the President of the United States isn't a U.S. citizen -- because you don't really have to. You have no responsibility to say anything more than, "Your point doesn't deserve consideration because you haven't proven it and likely never will."
But these people -- the Birthers -- aren't dealing in logic. That means any attempt to argue with them is an utterly futile gesture. And that means these ridiculous claims will never stop because all they need to flourish is a group of people dumb enough to believe them against all contrary evidence.
And someone like Sarah Palin to tell those people that they're not crazy.