Wednesday, August 5, 2009

serious bad craziness

It was 48 years ago yesterday – on August 4, 1961 – that our 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, was born in Honolulu, Hawai’i. At least that’s what THEY would like you to believe. It’s not entirely clear who “THEY” are. But apparently a solid majority of Republicans in this country believe that there is some kind of conspiracy going on to cover up President Obama’s foreign birth (or at least they haven’t made up their minds on the subject).

That’s remarkable (which, of course, is why I am remarking on it).

Research 2000 poll last week found that only 42% of Republicans believe President Obama was born in the United States (compared with 93% of Democrats). This despite the fact that the State of Hawai’i has repeatedly confirmed his birth in that state and has released a copy of his birth certificate ( examined the actual document and confirmed its authenticity). And the Honolulu Advertiser has confirmed that a birth announcement ran in its paper on August 13, 1961; the Honolulu Star-Bulletin ran an identical announcement the next day.

Since President Obama’s mother was undeniably an American citizen, her child is also undeniably an American citizen – regardless of where he was born. The location of President Obama’s birth is only relevant to the question of whether he is a “natural born Citizen” as required by the Constitution to serve as president. Even on that point, the Constitutional requirement almost certainly requires only that he be born a US citizen – as opposed to being a “naturalized” citizen. (Ironically, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, was unquestionably born outside the United States. He was born in the city of Colon, Panama, which was Panamanian territory outside the US-administered Canal Zone. Yet there was never any serious controversy over whether he was a “natural born Citizen” of the US.)

So if you follow the “logic” (using that term loosely) of this controversy (assuming that any dispute that gets mainstream media attention is a “controversy” regardless of the underlying merits of the positions – see, e.g., “
Shape Of The World – Views Differ”), “THEY” must have anticipated back in 1961 that their “Manchurian Candidate”, the child Barack Obama, would someday run for president, necessitating false birth announcements in a couple of US newspapers (for any other purpose, mere US citizenship would have been sufficient). Wouldn’t it have been easier simply to have the child born in the US? Or maybe choose as your Manchurian Candidate a kid with two white parents instead of only one? You have to admit, back in 1961 electing an African-American president wouldn’t have seemed the most probable path to subverting the US government.

Jon Stewart had a great take on this subject (“
The Born Identity”):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
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Bill Maher also
takes on the subject:

"Lou Dobbs said recently that people are asking a lot of questions about the birth certificate. Yes. The same people that want to know where the sun goes at night. And... where to put the stamp on their email. And Lou, you're their new king"

What does it say about the “mainstream” media when this kind of stuff gets major play on CNN? FOX News, sure. And you expect it from a guy like Rush Limbaugh (“What do Obama and God have in common? Neither has a birth certificate.”). But he is a comedian addled on enough OxyContin to kill a race horse who makes no effort to disguise his naked appeal to fear and hatred. But Lou Dobbs pretends to be a serious journalist of some sort. Sure, he really made his career by stoking anti-immigrant nativism. But how are we supposed to engage in a national discussion over something reasonably complex like health care reform when 58% of Republicans can’t even come to grips with the notion that President Obama was born in the US?

[If you want to produce your own fraudulent Kenyan birth certificate, you can
do so here.]

And from
Sean Kelly yesterday, an Obama birthday card:

[click to enlarge]

It’s interesting to note that
69% of those who don’t believe President Obama was born in the United States live in the South. (And 97% of blacks and 87% of Hispanics believe President Obama was born in the US.) David Weigel of the Washington Independent looked at the numbers and calculated that roughly three-quarters of Southern whites have doubts as to whether President Obama was born in the US. In other words, this is largely a Southern white Republican phenomenon. Which makes it pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that this is ultimately about race and the fear of many white Republicans, especially Southern white Republicans, of “The Other” attaining power.

Harold Meyerson put it in the Washington Post today:

When future historians look back at this passage in our nation's history, I suspect they'll conclude that this Obama-isn't-American nuttiness refracted the insecurities and, in some cases, the hatred that a portion of conservative white America felt about having a black president and about the transformation of what many thought of as their white nation into a genuinely multiracial republic.

The South really is different from the rest of the country. And increasingly the Republican Party is a regional Southern party. President Obama actually did OK with white voters nationally. He didn’t win a majority, but he got 43% of the white vote, which was better than Gore and Kerry did (and better than Clinton in 1992 but about the same as Clinton in 1996). But President Obama’s percentage of the overall white vote is particularly remarkable when you factor in how he did with Southern whites: His
percentage of the white vote was only 14% in Mississippi and Louisiana and only 10% in Alabama.

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he was said to have remarked to an aide as he put down his pen, “
We have lost the South for a generation.” Alas, LBJ actually underestimated the backlash from his fellow Southern whites. The South, which had been solidly Democratic, quickly became solidly Republican. Almost two generations later, it still is. That solid block of Southern electoral votes has been the key to Republican power since Nixon adopted his “Southern Strategy” in 1968. To put it bluntly, Republican success over the past forty has been largely a function of its appeal to Southern whites alienated from the Democratic Party over racial issues.

Last week, Ohio Senator George Voinovich, a Republican who is retiring next year, caused a stir when he complained that his party is “
being taken over by southerners.” He has a point: In the United States Senate, Republicans control 19 of the 26 seats in the South but only 21 seats outside the South. By contrast, Democrats control 53 seats – or almost three-quarters – of Senate seats outside the South. The two Republican Senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have made similar comments complaining about the increasingly narrow Republican base, as has Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. Nixon’s Southern Strategy has finally run its course.

The country is changing and the new demographics don’t favor the Republican Party.

As Nate Silver

Consider this remarkable statistic. In 1980, 32 percent of the electorate consisted of white Democrats (or at least white Carter voters) -- likewise, in 2008, 32 percent of the electorate consisted of white Obama voters. But whereas, in 1980, just 9 percent of the electorate were nonwhite Carter voters, 21 percent of the electorate were nonwhite Obama voters last year. Thus, Carter went down to a landslide defeat, whereas Obama defeated John McCain by a healthy margin.

In 2008, President Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote. He also won 68% of voters age 18 to 29. This is the future of the electorate. And it’s only getting worse for Republicans. In the aftermath of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the view of the Republican Party among Hispanics has plunged (from already abysmal levels). A
Research 2000 poll in last month found only 6% of Hispanics holding a positive view of the Republican Party. The number was an identical 6% among voters under 30.

The nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has also brought out the worst in the Republican Party as their attacks on her have been almost entirely racial in nature. All but four of the 110 Supreme Court justices in our country’s history have been white males. But the nomination of the first Hispanic (and only the third woman) has caused white Republican males to go nuts. Just
yesterday, Senator Inhofe (R-Ok) accused Judge Sotomayor of being “racist.” Inhofe was just echoing the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gringrich, Pat Buchanan, Tom Tancredo and other Republicans. I hope to write a full post on this subject in the next few days. But it is worth noting that Judge Sotomayor has been on the bench for 17 years. She has a record. The outstanding SCOTUSBlog actually looked at that record:
Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases while on the court of appeals.

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions. Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous. (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.) Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge. In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent’s point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury
selection in his case. So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims
by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

Others have undertaken similar reviews of
her record:

An exhaustive review of all 1,994 constitutional cases decided by the Second Circuit during the decade of Judge Sotomayor’s service found that Sotomayor is solidly in the mainstream of her colleagues. The Brennan Center for Justice report found Sotomayor voted with the majority of the court in 98.2 percent of constitutional cases.

Of all the cases Judge Sotomayor has decided in 17 years on the bench, Republicans have chosen to focus almost all their fire on one – the Ricci case – because it involved the inflammatory issue of race. Specifically, accusations of reverse discrimination against white firefighters. Yet almost no one disputes that her ruling in that case was entirely consistent with binding precedent in the 2nd Circuit. In other words, her critics have protested the fact that she wasn’t a judicial activist who disregarded precedent and substituted her judgment for that of local elected officials. The Supreme Court eventually overruled the 2nd Circuit in a 5-4 vote. But the Supreme Court, unlike an appeals court judge, has the ability to overturn precedent. And as Glenn Greenwald
has noted, 11 of the 21 federal judges who ruled on the Ricci case ruled the same way Judge Sotomayor did. Even the Supreme Court majority more or less acknowledged that it was changing existing law. As a reflection on the career of Judge Sotomayor, the Ricci case is pretty much irrelevant. Yet it was the one case Republicans chose to emphasize, going so far as to bring the white New Haven firefighters to her Senate hearings. The reason is simple: To inflame emotions on the subject of race.

The ability of race to enflame passions was also demonstrated recently with the whole Henry Louis Gates matter.

It seems it should have been pretty obvious that you don’t need to handcuff and haul off to jail a 58-year old Harvard professor who walks with a cane after it had been established that he was legitimately in his own home. I have no reason to doubt that Prof. Gates was arrogant, rude and self-important in his dealings with Officer Crowley. An arrogant Harvard professor? Stop the presses! But does anyone seriously believe that an arrogant white Harvard professor – say, Larry Summers – would have been hauled off to jail in handcuffs for being rude to a police officer in his own home?

No one contends that Prof. Gates assaulted or threatened the officer in any manner. He was charged with “disorderly conduct.” But it is legally impossible to commit the crime of “disorderly conduct” in the privacy of your own home in a one-on-one interaction with a police officer.
Massachusetts law requires that the “public” be involved in some way. The relevant statute requires a “purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm.” If it’s just between you and a police officer, you cannot be guilty of “disorderly conduct.” It is not a crime to be rude or insulting to a police officer – you can be the biggest jerk in the world in your own home. Which is why the charges against Prof. Gates were almost immediately dropped.

Police officers are supposed to de-escalate conflicts. The records in this matter show that it was only about six minutes between the time the 911 call was placed and the time Gates was hauled off in handcuffs. That wouldn’t seem to indicate that much effort was made to de-escalate matters. Once the officer determined Gates was legitimately in his own home he should have excused himself for the intrusion and left. But for whatever reason, Officer Crowley was not willing to take any crap from Prof. Gates. If Prof. Gates had committed an offense, the officer could have cited him. But hauling him off to jail in handcuffs when he presented no threat to anyone was just a power play. Yet in this case, presumably because of the racial element, the actions of the white police officer have been vociferously defended by right-wingers who would have had to have their guns pried out of their cold dead hands if anyone tried to handcuff them in their own homes when they had committed no crime other than being loudmouthed jerks. The intensity of the emotions raised by this incident make it pretty clear that race still has the ability to polarize opinion in this country. It was, as President Obama suggested, a “teachable moment.”

As with the Sotomayor nomination, the Gates matter shows there are a lot of white men who are having trouble dealing with new power structures in an increasingly multicultural country. As with the Obama birth certificate “controversy,” these stories show a Republican Party that is still obsessed with race – and not in a good way. Like
Glenn Beck’s tirade on FOX News, where he said of President Obama, “this guy is a racist.” According to Beck, President Obama “over and over again” has exposed himself to be “a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” – presumably including his white mother and white grandparents who raised him as a child.

That focus on race served the Republican Party well for forty years. But it is now proving to be its undoing. America is changing. But there are no signs of the Republican Party changing, as its base is becoming increasingly concentrated among Southern whites. Judging from the whole birth certificate matter, it appears to be a pretty crazy base.

Some serious bad craziness.

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