Friday, August 14, 2009

Last Thoughts on the Birther Bill

As faithful readers know, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about and communicating with a group of odd people, namely, tax protestors. Some of them are crazy, some foolish, some gullible, some poorly educated, some not so bright, and some all of the above. But my experience with them gives me, perhaps, a little insight into the equally odd birthers.

Both groups share an ability to believe in bizarre, massive conspiracies. Many tax protestors think that thousands of government officials have, for decades, conspired to defraud the American people by lying to them about tax law. The number of people who would have to be in on this conspiracy makes the notion utterly fantastical, but that doesn't seem to bother the protestors. Similarly, birthers who believe that President Obama was not born in the United States are necessarily positing a pretty susbstantial coverup -- not as massive as the tax protestors' imagined conspiracy, perhaps, but there would still have to be quite a lot of people in on it.

The willingness to believe in the necessary conspiracy also seems to spring from deep-seated distrust of government. Tax protestors seem to feed off the notion that government is evil -- it's not uncommon to find that tax protestors also believe that the government was behind 9/11 or some similarly amazing theory. That makes them all the more willing to believe that it would lie about the obligation to pay income tax. Similarly, prominent Birther Philip Berg, who sued President Obama to demand release of his birth certificate, previously was plaintiff's counsel in a suit charging President Bush with responsibility for 9/11.

Finally, birthers, like tax protestors, are never satisfied. When you address a tax protestor's argument, they are never (or almost never) convinced that they have an obligation to pay taxes. Instead, they just switch to another, equally absurd argument, and to yet another argument when you address that one.

Birthers seem to exhibit a similar pattern. Whatever initial reason there might have been to inquire about the President's citizenship (his father was from Kenya), the inquiry should have been satisfied when Obama released his birth certificate during the presidential campaign. But birthers doubted the certificate's authenticity. So fact-checking organizations examined it extensively and determined that it is genuine.

No matter. Birthers still aren't satisfied, and my experience with tax protestors suggests that they never will be. They are demanding the alleged "vault copy" of the birth certificate, but if that is ever released, it still won't matter. They'll just find some other reason to maintain their doubts. It's not about the facts; it's about their distress that Obama won the election.

So Birther Bill or no Birther Bill, it won't make a difference. Birthers are entrenched in their position and are not susceptible to evidence.

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