Birther Smackdown: Obama and Shakespeare

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May 23, 2012 in Culture & Media, Politics & Government

It’s hard to know where to begin. A co-worker walked onto the restaurant floor after her break. She was shaking her head. She’d been on the computer downstairs.

“It’s official,” she said. “Obama was born in Kenya. He wasn’t born in America.”

I took a deep breath. The kind normally reserved for hearing alien abduction stories. The kind of deep breath I have to take before telling my nephews that there is no monster living in their closet. The kind of deep breath I take before watching Fox News.

What I find fascinating, appalling and comical about “Birther” conspiracy theories is that it doesn’t matter how many times Obama himself shows his birth certificate. They all derive from the notion that President Obama is not being honest with us. That he is lying.

A recent post by the right-leaning Breitbart.com might even explain the origin of the Obama birthplace rumors. In 1991 Obama’s former literary agency misidentified his place of birth in a promotional booklet as being “born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

Birthers, however will not be satisfied. Confronting their contrary belief system with hard evidence and data only leads to more cover-up and further conspiracy explanations. A new documentary film goes farther down the delusional rabbit hole. Dreams of My Real Father is narrated by an Obama impersonator whose many claims are that Obama’s father was not a Kenyan goat-herder, but an American communist. The film suggests that Obama had a nose job before his 2004 Senate run and that his mother posed naked for a photo shoot when she was five weeks pregnant with him. Classy.

The real concern I have is that all this nonsense about birth certificates only distracts us from more pressing issues. Web sites like the Drudge Report would prefer to lead with conspiracy rather than the upcoming recall election of Governor Scott Walker for scrubbing collective bargaining rights from the workers in Wisconsin.

Maybe if we stopped all the sideshow antics we could have a debate about why the Tea Party and Occupy movements are similar and important. Maybe a few more blogs and more newspaper space could be dedicated to our fallen heroes in uniform. Maybe there could be a real discussion about the reform of marijuana laws, the overpopulation of prisons, the price of gasoline.

I can’t even discuss health care with my mother without her speculating that Obama might be a Muslim. How do you have a conversation with someone when they drop that on you? It really makes me wonder what nasty right-wing Web sites she’s been perusing. Is there a parental control block for your own parents?!

Some conspiracy theories, such as the Shakespeare Authorship question have had the good fortune of being clouded in history. The famous scribe had been dead almost 200 years before the authorship question had even been raised. Birthers don’t have that excuse. They have the unfortunate circumstance of being deluded in present time.

A comparison between Shakespeare and Obama conspiracists might be apt. The anti-Stratfordians still struggle with the notion that the lowly, uneducated son of a glove maker could rise to such status of genius and so they seek to create wealthy, royally educated alternate candidates such as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford to fit more comfortably into their world view. It’s elitism at its worst.

And with Obama it’s really not so much about his birth certificate as it is about answering a troubling question that doesn’t fit quite so well into a segment of the population’s world view. How is it that a black man could attain the status of President of the United States? Yes, elitism again and . . . that other word.

I told my co-worker that she was like one of our fellow bartenders we work with who doesn’t believe that man has ever walked on the moon. Her mouth fell open like it was the dumbest thing she had ever heard.

“You’re kidding me. That’s crazy. I know people who work at NASA.” She said.

“Maybe they’re lying to you,” I said conspiratorially. “Maybe that’s just a story.”

She brushed off my sarcasm with a roll of her eyes and then I watched her and the bartender begin an uncomfortable discussion about astronauts and the moon. They were honestly debating if man had actually stepped on the moon in 1969. I felt like slapping myself in the face.

Perhaps we should strive to be more like Odysseus and tie ourselves to the mast of honest debate rather than participate in the siren songs of conspiracy and lunacy.

Maybe it’s time to stop the sideshow and get back to issues that matter like jobs, like the economy.

On second thought, there’s an election coming up. Fat chance.

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Jim Lair Beard
Jim Lair Beard is a writer who worked as a server at the Hyatt Andaz for two years.
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  • Anonymous

    Birthers want to believe that President Obama was not born in the U.S. They have so much invested in this lunacy that to believe otherwise would be devastating for them. Why did the Secretary of State in Arizona need something confirmed on an individual basis that the state of Hawaii confirmed to the country as a whole? Because he was pandering to the RWNJ’s who don’t want President Obama in the White House or because he wanted to promote himself for when he runs for Governor in 2 years?? It looks as if, even in Arizona, that there are still far more sane people than the lunatic birthers. Bennett now looks like the fool he is and has hurt his Gubernatorial run, not helped it.

    I hate that politics has become such a hateful, divisive idea that further separates the progressives from the right-wingers, the haves’ from the have nots’, and does it at a time when we need to be working together. The more I read and hear about what is going on, it’s easy to see that this is what the GOP wants to achieve. Otherwise, we’d hear them condemning these birthers for their ludicrous ideas. As soon as one idea is debunked, another comes up, with one of the latest being that President Obama’s father was not Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. but one of several so-called radical Muslims from the ’60′s. The rest of the world is laughing at us while the GOP claims we’re no longer thought of as an exceptional country. Is there any doubt as to why they think of us in this manner? Unfortunately, as the author indicated, it’s doubtful that an election is going to help, no matter who is elected but that won’t stop me from doing my best to get President Obama re-elected. He proves everyday he’s American through and through as he travels around the country despite death threats to himself and to his family because he believes in the U.S.

  • Edboswell

    I agree: Birthers are grabbing for straws. But what does that have to do with the mystery over who wrote under the (obvious) pen-name, “William Shake-speare”? Kindly note that Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance believe Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author, and I venture to say their Shakespearean credentials are more impressive than Mr. Beard’s. In short, Mr. Beard has attacked me and others as being elitist without bothering to know anything about the case for Edward de Vere. (Only elitists use the word “elitist” to belittle others, btw) Add to the list of elitists Michael York, Orson Welles, Sigmund Freud, Paul Nitze, as well as Scalia and Stevens from the Supreme Court.

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