Street Corner Soapbox: Birtherism

Categories:  Street Corner Soapbox    Opinion
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 at 8:00 AM
Street Corner Soapbox: Birtherism by Jay Stevens
A. Conaway

Birtherism still lives. I know. I encountered it on Facebook when one of my “friends” posted a link and a video detailing how President Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate – released early in 2011 – is actually a forgery.

The basis of the accusation is two-fold. First, the computer file type of the certificate – a PDF – contains multiple embedded layers akin to the kind photo-editing software would create. Second, there are “mistakes” – mostly supposed anachronisms —in the certificate. Together, this “evidence” points to the presidential birth certificate being fake.

In less than 10 seconds after reading this claim, I was able to find the relevant page on – the site that examines urban legends and hoaxes – that debunked it. Simply put, the layers in the file are natural to how a document would look after it was scanned – which it no doubt was. And the “mistakes” in the document, well, aren’t.

Ten seconds. Less than ten seconds. That’s all it took to find out the truth behind the claim that Obama’s certificate was faked. The question I was left with was, why wouldn’t you take the time to find out?

Think about it. The idea that Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, that there’s a large and pervasive conspiracy engineering a false background for the president so that he would be elected to the White House, and so that he could remain there – it’s a pretty crazy idea to begin with, even if there were some plausible evidence to support it. But there isn’t any. Just ginned-up evidence like my Facebook friend’s claim.

So what does it say about someone who believes something like that immediately and without doubt? And without checking first? Emerson said that, “people do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.”

Welcome to contemporary politics. Where an entire swath of the political spectrum has abandoned reality – on presidential birth certificates, global warming, and socialism – but is treated seriously by the mainstream media. Politics is supposed to be about civic engagement, about public discourse. At its best, we apply reason to common problems and work them out. And we are plagued with enormous common problems. The growing divide between rich and poor. The sluggish economy, and dearth of jobs. The shrinking of the middle class. A looming energy crisis, and, yes, global warming.

These problems are real. They should be at the center of debate this summer. But they won’t. Instead we’ll be talking about birth certificates and scientific conspiracies and death panels.

I know I’m supposed to keep discourse open. I know that it’s too easy nowadays with blogs and social media so prevalent and abundant to simply find a comfortable corner of the online world and hide away in an echo chamber of like-minded opinions. I know all this .But I am still un-friending the Birther on Facebook. There is discourse we should not tolerate.

Jay Stevens can be contacted at

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