Conspiracy Theories

Why Birtherism Is Here to Stay

The facts don't matter to conspiracy theorists.


On Oct. 22, 1844, thousands of followers of American evangelist William Miller woke up expecting Jesus Christ to make his triumphant return that day, as they had been told. That night, they went to bed, surprised and disappointed. But Miller's movement endured.

It was too much to expect that birthers, presented with President Barack Obama's birth certificate, would say: "What surprising and wonderful news! We'll have to reassess our entire opinion of him." When it comes to matters of blind faith, cherished beliefs have a way of overriding facts.

There has never been a shred of persuasive evidence that Obama was born anywhere but Hawaii. But thanks to rampant paranoia and widespread credulity, the myth of his foreign origins gained currency among many people who should know better.

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that 25 percent of Americans, including 45 percent of Republicans, do not believe Obama was born in America. A poll taken after the release of his birth certificate showed 18 percent of those who have seen it still aren't convinced.

Something about this president impels many people to accept anything that is said about him, as long as it's unfavorable. Twelve percent of Americans think he's a Muslim. Plenty of others believe things contradicted by his first two years in office—that he's a radical leftist, an anti-gun fanatic, a disciple of world government, and Darth Vader's delinquent nephew.

They even believe he's an inarticulate dunce who got into Ivy League schools only because of affirmative action and can't utter an intelligible sentence without a teleprompter. Never mind that he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and taught at another premier university, the University of Chicago.

Birthers don't dislike Obama because they think he was born abroad. They think he was born abroad because they dislike him. People of this bent don't proceed from facts to a conclusion. They prefer to reach a conclusion and then scrounge for any facts—or "facts"—that support it.

For them, being told Obama is a natural-born American is like being told he's a loving father and a loyal friend. They won't buy it because it doesn't confirm what they want to be true.

The phenomenon, of course, is not limited to conservatives or Republicans. It's endemic to partisans and ideologues of every stripe. In a 1988 survey, Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to believe that inflation and unemployment rose under President Ronald Reagan—though they had actually fallen.

A 2007 poll found that Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to say President George W. Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks. A lot of them would believe he has the ExxonMobil logo tattooed on his chest.

The natural human tendency is to accept anything that supports one's existing view and reject anything that doesn't. It beats constantly assessing information to determine whether it's true or false, which is hard, endless, unpaid work.

Yale political scientists John Bullock, Alan Gerber, and Gregory Huber say partisans don't just say false things about the opposition; they actually, sincerely believe them. These scholars asked respondents various factual questions about Obama, Reagan, and Bill Clinton—and offered monetary rewards for correct answers. Yet even when money was at stake, partisans still had a clear tendency to give answers (and make errors) that matched their preconceptions.

This is surprising only if you think of political views as a matter of logical reasoning. For many people, they really aren't. They're a way of indulging emotional impulses without suffering painful consequences.

If you insist on believing your fairy godmother will take care of the rent, you'll pay a high price by being evicted. But if you believe equally implausible things about politics, you will pay no price at all.

On the contrary, if thinking Obama is a foreigner brings you closer to people you like, you come out ahead. Birthers would rather be wrong than be divided from their allies. So the fiction that Obama was born in Kenya will endure, and many Americans will hold fast to a ridiculous article of faith that has been conclusively refuted.

It's a thunderous testament to how far people will go in deluding themselves. What's next? Half the country thinking there's at least a chance the moon is made of green cheese?

Don't be silly. No sentient American adult would say that. Unless Obama said it wasn't.


NEXT: Cleaning Up

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  1. It’s all sour grapes from him winning the election.

    The Birther’s side couldn’t defeat him straight up so they grasp this alleged technicality and cling to it to assuage their emotional hurt at such a person defeating their stalwart American hero.

    The funny thing is these same people will vote for someone with a sketchy birth record if they agreed with his positions. And may have. (I didn’t pay any attention to McCain’s birth status controversy so I don’t know how that worked out.)

    Birtherism and Trutherism are the shiny cat toys of politics. The people who go after them look like idiots and marginalize themselves.

    This birther shit actually leaves Obama stronger. Instead of having to fight real battles 100% of the time he can fight this shit at no political cost to him. It’s a respite for him. It’s like a boxer who, instead of trying to knock-out his opponent with all of his might, stays back and shouts “yo mama” jokes at the other man.

    On the plus side these people readily self-identify so it makes it easy to avoid them.

    1. Hillary got a cushy job and is still bitter?

    2. That alleged technicality is pronounced constitutional requirement, something the folks here are usually very big on.
      While I agree that these things are “shiny cat toys of politics,” they are that mostly because those who benefit from them are happy to give the toys a twitch to keep the cats focused on them. Obama kept that birth certificate hidden to good political advantage (twitch), and now shows it to keep it from becoming a liability (twitch) with the rapid change in poll numbers. Using it to make the Right look like idiots was good until Trump lent it an air of mainstream legitimacy.
      For me the more interesting aspect of Trutherism and Birtherism is that both are products of the Left. Obama could shut his down at will with the release of a single document. Bush was stuck with his no matter what he did.

      1. I’m surprised Obama didn’t keep it hidden indefinitely, specifically so that Trump et. al. could continue to look like idiots. This whole ridiculous story is very interesting from the standpoint of political strategy.

        1. Political strategy is exactly the point. Obama released it because the polls showed hiding it was becoming a liability.

      2. “Obama could shut his down at will with the release of a single document.”

        Bullshit. He did that when ghe released his birth certificate years ago. Then it shifted to “we need thwe long form” then it shifted to “it isn’t real, look at the layers!”, etc. etc.

        This is no one’s fault but the idiots who kept this up past the first birth certificate, if not earlier.

    3. On the plus side these people readily self-identify so it makes it easy to avoid them.

      So true. Many otherwise rational people I know are like this. I am willing to sit and talk politics and such with them, but the minute they open their mouths and start with “Birth Certificate”, “Secret Muslin”, “9/11 was an inside job”, “The Koch Brothers”, etc…I know I am talking to someone who is irrational. I quickly change the topic of conversation or remove myself…because reason is not part of their political vocabulary.

      1. “Secret Muslin”?
        Yeah! Don’t try giving me that cheap junk. I want Egyptian cotton!

      2. You’re irrational. You believe what you want based on faith and use that as excuse to call people with facts irrational.

        Fact: 2008 birth certain was a blatant forgery. I think Obama was born in Hawaii but that doesn’t change the facts.

        Fact: WTC 7 was imploded. There was no plane debris in front of pentagon on 9/11. I don’t know what happened but it isnt irrational to point out that the official conspiracy theory is inconsistent with the facts.

        He’ll al queda wad a secret code name used by the pentagon– were supposed to believe elite mujahadeen broke into langly to find a name for their new club? Or maybe that isn’t the name but is a false flag brand that can be applied even to groups that oppose Osama et al, as has been done.

        Fact: the federal reserve was created by a criminal conspiracy. That fact isn’t in dispute, but you would say it is irrational to claim so simply because you believe conspiracies can’t exist.

        You’re irrational.

    4. Yes, and he allowed this shit to go on for years, by spending millions to keep his long for birth cert confidential.

  2. In other news, Obama killed bin Laden with his bare hands.

    Good morning reason!

    1. Get over it, bitch.

  3. My mother thinks Obama arranged all the spontaneous bin Laden-death celebrations. She believes that all those people hitting the streets at once is just a little too “convenient.” She can’t prove it, but.

  4. Anything new going on since the royal wedding?

  5. We have birtherism for the same reason we have people like Donald Trump.

  6. This is the number of shits I give about Obama’s origins – 0.

    He could be Martian, for all I give a fuck – he’s still just as abysmal.

    1. But if he wasn’t a citizen we could call a do-over and reset everything how it was in Jan. ’09, right?

      1. Nope. All hail President Biden.

  7. Yes it is here to stay, but that is hardly unique–or even worth writing about.

    People still think:
    Bush did 9/11
    HAARP causes earthquakes/ect
    A second shooter on the grassy knoll
    Oil companies are suppressing “free energy”
    US never went to the moon
    Osama was/is a fabricated CIA plot
    Earth is flat

    Ect, forever.

    1. Even I know earthquakes are cause by tits

    2. Many also think etc. is spelled ect.

      1. And some also think they are clever when they point out obvious typographical errors that have no impact on meaning.

  8. And some people will believe what a liar tells them too because it fits what they want to believe. Cuts both ways Mr Chapman.

    1. Oooo! Cant argue with that! All that confirmed evidence that Obama is a natural born citizen means nothing because Obama is a liar.

  9. It’s very clear;
    Birthers are here to stay.
    Not for a year;
    Forever and a day.

    1. As elequent as it was moving.

      I wish you had done
      The above in haiku form
      This is more fun, no?

  10. Since the moon landings were carefully-crafted hoaxes, it is still possible that the moon is made of green cheese!!!!

  11. I don’t give two runny shits where he was born, that man has no authority over anyone but his kids until they emancipate or reach the age of majority.

    As for “bin Laden”, didn’t he die last time right before an election? It’s like an inept magician trying to pull a rabbit out when most of the audience is booing or long ago fled for the exits.

    1. stop licking the frogs!

    2. …and don’t get me started on that “moon landing” bullshit.

  12. I admit that birtherism is a waste of time, however, I love birthers! I love anyone who will stand up to Obama. When Bush was president the liberals were willing to treat him like a piece of dog shit, yet now that Obama’s president we can’t criticize him without anyone calling us racist. Well, no more. I say criticize the mofo all day long!

    Birtherism is not about race.…..about.html

    1. Birtherism is not about race.

      Sing it, brother!

    2. Birtherism is not about race.

      You are correct for most people it is about TEAM RED!!!

      (as evidence I submit your preceding comments)

      1. When Team Libertarian has a chance at winning an election, I will vote for them. Until then, I will support the GOP since it’s the only pro-business, anti-tax, and pro-gun party.

        Besides, while the GOP pretends to care about social issues, they rarely do anything about them. So you can still go ahead and have as many abortions as you’d like.

    3. But here’s the thing – they’re not standing up to Obama in any meaningful, adult way. They literally believe that all they have to do to beat Obama is prove he’s not technically allowed to be President. They do this instead of actually working to defeat him. Birthers are lazy, pathetic people, and deserve no praise.

      1. What if the birthers were right? What if Obama was indeed illegitimate for the Presidency? What if that birth certificate he released was a fraud?

        1. What if you had some sort of reasoned (drink!) argument?

          1. I take comfort in the fact that the left hates you as much as you hate me. 😉

    4. I’m all for people criticizing Obama or any one else in an elected place of power when they are not fulfilling their duties as expected. But shouldn’t the criticism at least be on something constructive rather than a nonissue like this?

      1. What would they criticize him for? He’s mostly continued Bush’s foreign policy. He blows hundreds of billions on bloated healthcare bills, just like Bush. He’s bad on debt, just like Bush.

        Besides, actual criticism would consist of: Raise Taxes or Cut Programs. Nobody wants to pay more and nobody wants to lose their slice of government cheese.

    5. Oh, and if you think the word “mulatto” is racist then so is “African-American.” Mulatto simply means “half-white, half-white.” Moving on.

      Yes, and a faggot is just a piece of kindling. Who writes this shit? Nevermind.

      1. Faggot has a homophobic origin since they used to burn gays at the stake.

        Mulatto has no racist origin just like negro has no racist origin. Why are Americans so uptight about race? I’ve lived in other countries and it’s common for people to use words like mulatto, mestizo, quarterron, etc. It’s not a racist word you ignorant fool.

    6. I suppose you didn’t criticize Bush, or you would remember being called a terrorist.

      1. Called a terrorist for criticizing Bush? By whom? Only Fox News is fair and balanced and allows conservatives and libertarians to express themselves, the rest of the media is ultra-liberal.

  13. Why are the Democrats Team Blue?

    Shouldn’t they be Team Red?

    They are the commies after all.

    1. This was always my thought on the matter, but I think the colors got set a few presidential election cycles ago by the MSN (probably Rather during 2000)…but that is my vague sense of the matter

    2. In general, everywhere else in the world, the left-of-center party is red and the right of center party is blue. Our color scheme got set during the 2000 election. All the major news outlets started using the same color scheme to stay consistant since the election went on for three weeks.

      In fact, one reporter referred to Reagan’s 1984 election as a “suburban swimming pool”.

  14. “The facts don’t matter to conspiracy theorists.”

    In reality, the facts don’t matter to most people in regards to anything political, opinions and half-truths are what guide nearly every discussion. Unfortunate, but it’s seemingly human nature.

    1. Or I guess more accurately: Opinions and half-truths – presented as facts- are what guide nearly every discussion

  15. lol, Donald Trump. Born in America, Hair made in China, Spray on Tan courtesy of Hawaiian Tropic lol

  16. Hillary got a cushy job and is still bitter?

    Why not? Michelle has had a string of cushy jobs, and has always been bitter.

    A sense of entitlement is never satisfied.

  17. Only 5% of the Birthers really thought he was born in Kenya or Canada or wherever

    50% thought he was born in Hawaii, but annoyed that he wasn’t proving it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    And 45% didn’t care about him not proving it all, they were just annoyed about all the Bush conspiracy theories from the Left and wanted to get some revenge.

  18. The sad thing about the birther debate is I can no longer say I will denounce the Birthers when the left starts denouncing the claims that Bush stole the election. For those who missed it Obama called this a silly issue the silly thing is that he didn’t produce his certificate when McCain produce his before the election, thus stoping the birthers in their tracks? It was a political move to make the right look like fools and some took the bait.

  19. What is more interesting to contemplate: Obama was not born an American citizen.
    The implications are:
    Uh, gee, we have some stupid election officials, and the vaunted dirty trick departments of both Hillary and the Republicans apparently can’t fine their own asses or determine that an illegal allien is not a citizen.
    We only discover this after the election.
    We decide to get rid of an elected president mid term?
    The same people who most rail against a foolproof national ID are the most vehement in demanding a foolproof national birth certificate…

    1. You’re assuming the two parties are actually at odds. You’re also assuming Presidents are elected instead of selected.

  20. This article, IMHO, is a perfect example of how we have come to a place that few reasonalbe people like. For 80 years curiosity about ‘why is that’ has been attacked as ‘stupid’. Why do we have a Constitution? ‘Stupid question’ from ‘stupid people’. Why with all the $$ spent on education do we have children who can’t read, write or do math? ‘Stupid’ question. Why did The Obama hide his past? ‘Stupid question from stupid people.’

    If more people would demand less obfiscation and more upfront honesty we might have more of what we need. More time to improve our debate from ‘he said, she said’ to ‘why is that’.

    1. Um, exactly what part of Obama’s past did he “hide”?

  21. I understand there’s a new group calling themselves “After-Birthers” who are demanding to inspect the president’s placenta.

  22. So…

    Is there anything dumber than a fuckng birther?

    1. Someone who asks if there is anything dumber than a fucking birther.

  23. There’s a name for this phenomenon: true-believer syndrome.

  24. who is who of redemption, who is a catastrophe?

    1. thats the million dollar question!

  25. In my opinion it’s just one step short of the “one party democracies” many dictators and so-called communist countries employ.

  26. “Birther” is a catchy perjorative that has been used for the past three years by most of the mainstream media and various other Obama operatives and supporters.

    It serves them to demonize and ridicule anyone who mentions the fact that Barack Obama has always concealed virtually the entire paper trail of his existence.

    The word is thought to have been originally invented and spread about by David Axelrod.

    By portraying the so-called “birthers” as crazy and racist individuals who are obsessed with the belief that Obama was born in Kenya or elsewhere outside of the United States, they continually seek to avoid any emphasis of the fact that practically every original personal record and document from his past has never been released or allowed to be subjected to any sort of scrutiny.

    Astute observers in corridors of power and other quarters have tended to take Obama at his word, that he was indeed born somewhere in Hawaii. Most serious people in public life consider it unlikely that he was born anywhere else.

    This consideration has nothing to do with the recent White House release of the infamous “long form” birth certificate, which has led to numerous parties contributing to a compelling argument that it is actually a forgery, and a not very good one at that.

    Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that Obama was indeed born somewhere in Hawaii.

    Whether his actual birth mother was in fact the late Stanley Ann Dunham and his biological father the late Kenyan Barack Obama “Sr.” is quite another matter, one that has long been a subject of international speculation that is rapidly increasing with the approach of the 2012 presidential election.

    The controversy of the true origins of the man of mystery known as Barack Hussein Obama is fast becoming less a matter of “Where?” and more a matter of “Who?”

    Whether the current president’s actual birth mother was the late Stanley Ann Dunham or some other female, and whether his actual biological father was the late Kenyan Barack Obama “Sr.” or his boyhood mentor the late CPUSA operative Frank Marshall Davis or his late “grandfather” Stanley Armour Dunham (arguably the likeliest candidate – see among numerous other sources) or some other man, is all far less relevant to the future of the United States than the facts about his past associations and ideological convictions and behavioral influences and ongoing relationships.

    This is the sort of the information about their presidential candidates that American voters believe they have the need, and the right, to know.

    The sort of information that Obama and his handlers are obviously determined to keep from them.

    It had become customary in postwar modern times for presidential candidates to allow for the release and scrutiny of the substantive body of their personal records and credentials, indeed up until 2008 largely because of a strong interest from the mainstream media.

    The appearance of Barack Obama upon the national political stage changed that tradition, and he was given an astonishing special exception from this important unofficial practice that American voters had come to expect.

    In their eagerness to “make history” by helping to elect The Chosen One as the first black president, the mainstream media failed in their essential national responsibility to report with thorough impartial objectivity. They ignored their duty to search for the truth and should be regarded with disdain by all people who value information in a free society.

    Obama and his handlers were able to hide his past and explain away and minimize his relationships with highly controversial individuals and groups during their 2008 campaign.

    Will they be able to effectively repeat this deception between now and 6 November 2012?

    Only if you let them.

  27. Have any of you taken a real close look at the “official” certificate. I will not make any other assertion about the man other than it is a fake. If you know anything at all bout digital documents than there is no question that this is not a genuine certificate. The fact that they can pass this crude ruse off on the majority of you is the real reason we are in so much trouble. Why would they do it? Answer yourself but if someone continually lies then something is terribly wrong. I have opened the document up and looked closely, it is made of pieces and they are not original, it is no scan nor picture nor microfiche. It is a very bad forgery.

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