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Birther Smackdown: Obama and Shakespeare

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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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