Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pandering to the Birthers

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 12:44 PM

Birther bills SB 1526 and HB 2544 have stalled out this week at the Arizona Legislature. But it's easy to see why Republicans don't see any harm in signing on in support of the bills. TNR's Jonathan Chait flags a poll showing just how powerful the birther movement is among GOP primary voters:

Birthers make a majority among those voters who say they're likely to participate in a Republican primary next year. 51% say they don't think Barack Obama was born in the United States to just 28% who firmly believe that he was and 21% who are unsure. The GOP birther majority is a new development. The last time PPP tested this question nationally, in August of 2009, only 44% of Republicans said they thought Obama was born outside the country while 36% said that he definitely was born in the United States. If anything birtherism is on the rise.

Give Secretary of State Ken Bennett credit for standing up against this nonsense. As Slate's William Saletan notes, it's more than GOP leaders in D.C. are doing:

That's four straight interviews in which the country's three top Republicans—the speaker of the House and the GOP leaders in each chamber—have refused to condemn the spreading of lies about Obama's faith and citizenship. These three men are confident enough in the personhood of fetuses to support banning abortion. They're confident enough in the efficacy and justice of the U.S. health care system to block funding of the Affordable Care Act. They're confident enough in Wall Street, despite the recklessness and bailouts of the last three years, to press for repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. But ask them whether Obama is a Muslim or was born in the United States, and suddenly they're too humble to impose their beliefs on others. They can only describe "the facts as I understand them." They can only speak "for me." They can only "listen to the American people," not "tell them what to think."

These men aren't leaders. They're followers. To lead a party, much less a country, you have to be able to say no. You have to stand up to liars, lunatics, and dupes on your party's fringe. John McCain did it, in his clumsy way (there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim or Arab), when he was the GOP's presidential nominee. Even Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck have done it. They've called the birther conspiracy theories "bogus," "absurd," and "ridiculous."

Why can't Boehner, Cantor, or McConnell speak that bluntly? Why won't they call a lie a lie? If they want to be leaders, it's time to lead.

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