birther protest sign

The Obama birth certificate’s out—the long-form one, the real one, not the not-fake short-form one. You can look at it here (PDF). Or you can read James Janega’s 2008 reportage. Or you can… oh, forget it. I won’t believe it’s real until it tours the country in a Paranoia Train along with a first draft of Dreams of My Father in Obama’s own handwriting. Can you carbon-date baby booties?

What I’m not doing is caring.

Oh, please. American political history is a veil of sadness, not to mention venality, greed, incompetence, and madness. This is a sideshow, and not a particularly interesting one.

Obama is lucky compared to Bill Clinton; hell, the Vince Foster "coverup" still had legs a decade later. Last month Mike Konzcal (of the outstanding econ blog Rortybomb) pointed out, in discussing right wing "journalist"-turned-Media Matters founder David Brock, that the noise machine responsible for the birther controversy is merely the descendent of the one that gave us Troopergate and Whitewatergate. That was well-organized and well-funded; the birther meme was running on fumes before a TV host and probably-pseudo-presidential candidate picked it up.

Yesterday I was reading up on the birthers to refresh my memory—remind me, where was he actually born?—and took a detour into the anti-papist crusade against John F. Kennedy. I have a Catholic friend who wasn’t close to born yet, and he’s still fascinated by it, having inherited the memories from his parents. It really was bonkers: questions (serious, of course) as to whether JFK would be under the thumb of the Vatican.

The Tribune found this perplexing, perhaps because the staff of a Chicago paper, where Catholics dominated political life, would instinctually realize the madness of it. What kind of power would a mere pope have against Mayor Daley? He doesn’t run a ward organization.

But it was dutifully reported anyway, thanks in part to Trump-like figures like Norman Vincent Peale, doyen of positive thinking except when it came to Catholics: "’Our American culture is at stake,’ said Peale. ‘I don’t say it won’t survive, but it won’t be what it was.’"

If there’s anything sad about the birthers, it’s that they represent a decline in the creativity of American conspiracy theorists. So assume Obama wasn’t born in America… then what? Is he trying to cover up the fact that he’s a secret Muslim? Or that he’s an African anti-colonialist? Maybe he’s just a moderate neoliberal who happened to be born in Kenya or Indonesia or something. I demand better conspiracy architecture than this.

The birthers have never had great traction, but that’s not really the point. In his tour of the berserk conspiracy theories of the Cold War, and their retro resurgence under Glenn Beck, Sean Wilentz quoted the great Tribune writer Finley Peter Dunne, writing in his proto-Slats Grobnik persona Mr. Dooley: "Th’ noise ye hear is not th’ first gun iv a revolution. It’s on’y th’ people iv th’ United States batin’ a carpet.”

Update: This: "We’ve had some insanity since, and certainly the consequences of that insanity have sometimes been worse (Iraq war), but we really haven’t matched the sheer lunacy of the Clinton era." 

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Photograph: Fibonacci Blue (CC by 2.0)