Caught in the throes of an exploding political and policy mileau surrounding immigration enforcement, the Arizona House of Representatives has opened a second front by embracing “birtherism” — the idea that President Obama is secretly an alien (Kenyan, Indonesian, or Grey — it’s never quite clear) — by demanding that all future presidential candidates present their birth certificate before being allowed access to the Arizona ballot. Particularly hilarious is the most compact self-contradiction in recent memory from a supporter of the measure:
Mesa Republican Rep. Cecil Ash said he has no reason to doubt Obama’s citizenship but supports the measure because it could help end doubt. (emphasis added)
The birthers are generally kind of amusing in a bizarre way, the same way that “truthers” (who contended that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration) are. But the kind of politics they both represent is anything but funny. By encouraging people to believe vast conspiracy theories about the government at the highest levels, these kind of people make reasoned debate over policy all but impossible. When they are given access to the mainstream — as many Democrats did with their lionization of Cindy Sheehan and many Republicans are doing with birthers now — the consequence is to hijack the debate over policy into an Alice-in-Wonderland expedition into the realms of dark fantasy. Moreover, opposition and dissent becomes removed from the ground of principle and condemned to the category of conspiracy, where intractability and even violent responses are justified.
This is the fertile ground which transformed debate over health care reform into screams about “socialism” and “dictatorship” and, only a few years ago, distorted debate about the difficulties of combat against a non-state entity into screams about a new Hitler taking over the United States. It’s not just left or right — it is irrational extremism on both sides contributing equally and in nearly the exact forms.
The Arizona House is just one of two legislative bodies in the state, of course. And it seems unlikely that the Governor would ever sign a mandate of this type regardless. But the attitude it reflects is, at best, nutty. At worst, it is dangerous.
The author can be reached with comments by email. Birthers, Truthers, and other, ah, “people with ‘issues'” are asked to refrain.