Birthers, Conspiracy, and Rhetoric

News broke early this morning that President Barack Obama had released a copy of his long form birth certificate in an effort to halt the growing engagement with birther conspiracies that he is not a U.S. citizen. The president said:

We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.

Problem solved right? Salon.com’s Justin Elliott argues that the GOP has long provided cover for birthers by their rhetorical maneuvers to neither confirm nor deny Obama’s citizenship. He even offers a compelling pull quote from former Bush speech writer David Frum as evidence that such conversations ought to be banished from the ranks of the GOP. Frum claims:

Not only did Trump surge ahead in Republican polls by flaming racial fires — not only did conservative media outlets from Fox to Drudge to the Breitbart sites indulge the birthers — but so also did every Republican candidate who said, “I take the president at his word.” Birthers did not doubt the president’s “word.” They were doubting the official records of the state of Hawaii. It’s like answering a 9/11 conspiracist by saying, “I take the 9/11 families at their word that they lost their loved ones.”

Fascinating. Yet, in the far fringe mind of the birther movement little will likely change. The birther movement is a conspiracy movement, it is not reasoned discourse in the way argumentation treats reasoned debate and rules of evidence. I should note that this is not a defense of reason which Deleuze calls an impoverished concept, instead it suggests that conspiracy rhetoric follows its own logic. As G. Thomas Goodnight and John Poulakos argue the work of Hofstadter  characterizes the “tendency to blame the deliberate, clandestine and unrestrained use of power for social evil as the “paranoid style,” found that the most strident contemporary practitioners of conspiracy discourse were members of the radical right.” The view that Obama is a socialist muslim bent on destroying America is a pernacious logic that cannot be defeated by simply showing a long form birth certificate. Moreover, as Goodnight and Poulakos note:

For those convinced of conspiracy, more evidence only leads to greater uncertainty. Since tbe nature or degree of conspiracy cannot be known beforeband, and since part of a conspirator’s duty is to cover-up deeds with apparent proof or to remove entirely damning clues, all evidence points toward uncertainty. Thus, “facts” which counter tbe conspiracy hypothesis become suspect and must be tested over and over again for weaknesses.

Meaning, the presence of new evidence simply provides more boundaries to be tested and new terrain for the battle over Obama’s birthplace to rage on. Will some who are only partially committed to the idea of birtherism as a political issue avert their course? Sure. However, we ought to expect that in the depths of this movement this new evidence provides even more proof that Obama is not a U.S. citizen. For those interested in rhetoric and conspiracies we can watch as this document becomes another clue in a long litany of clues that reveal Obama is not a U.S. citizen.

We can be sure of this much, the birther conspiracy turned a new chapter today, but the book is far from closed.

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