Thursday, January 14, 2016

Birthers: a clarification

Back in 2008, when Senator Barack Obama was running for president, a group of Hillary Clinton dead-enders called PUMAs started running with a conspiracy theory claiming that Obama's Hawaiian birth had been faked somehow, and that he was actually born in Kenya, and was thus ineligible to serve as President of the United States. This was despite the fact that the Clinton campaign itself had found Obama's birth announcement in a Honolulu newspaper. The PUMA conspiracy theory quickly spread to various right wing sources, including Joseph Farah's WorldNetDaily, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and, eventually, Donald Trump. The proponents of this conspiracy theory became known as birthers, by analogy with the 9/11 attack conspiracy theorists, known as truthers.

In an amusing sequel to the birther phenomenon, Donald Trump, now himself the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, is claiming that rival candidate Senator Ted Cruz's Canadian birth makes him ineligible to serve as president. Because of the similarity of the claims against Cruz and Obama, and because Trump himself has made the same claim against both men, the term "birther" is being applied to Trump and other figures who are disputing Cruz's eligibility.

This is wrong. The anti-Obama conspiracy-mongers were called birthers because the heart of their conspiracy theory involved disputing that Obama was born in the United States. That is not the case with Cruz. Everyone, including Cruz himself, agrees that he was not born in the United States. Thus, there is no actual conspiracy theory involved; only the legal question of whether Cruz's universally-acknowledged foreign birth disqualifies him for the presidency.

If you want a term for the people who dispute Cruz's eligibility, you might call them "natural-borners", because the issue they raise is whether Cruz is a natural-born citizen within the meaning of the Constitution. Thus, Trump is both a "birther" and a "natural-borner", while Mary Brigid McManamon is a "natural-borner" but not a "birther".

Cruz's current natural-borner controversy is particularly amusing because, had it not been for the birthers making a prolonged fuss about Obama's alleged foreign birth, the question of Cruz's actual foreign birth might not even have come up.

No comments: