Well, the cultural studies class of 2019 have got their thesis topic sorted out, with the rise and rise of the “birther” controversy in the US. For those not immersed in the wilder realms of political psycho-pathology, the birthers are a lunatic fringe of the US Republican lunatic mainstream, who continue to believe that Barack Obama was not born in the US, and is not therefore eligible to be President.

They’ve been agitating for more than a year and a half now, back from when it seemed at least possible, though highly unlikely that Obama had been born somewhere else — and the release of a Hawaiian birth certificate, announcements in Hawaiian papers, and the absence of any evidence to support a contrary scenario has not stopped them.

This week they thought they’d hit the motherlode — an actual Kenyan birth certificate for Barack Hussein Jr. Sadly it turned out to be not only a forgery, but quite possible a gotcha hoax — the form taken from an online posting of a South Australian certificate, of all things, the names of the registrar etc changed to be that of a popular US cleaning product.

Every movement gets its alfoil hat brigade — what matters is how you deal with them. “Nothing to the right (or left) of me,” the old adage, de facto means, shoot the crazies. This the US Right has signally failed to do, with blustering nativist CNN host Lou Dobbs, defending their “right to speak”.

Since this was not in question, the effect of the remark was simply to attach the birthers to the side of the right, like barnacles on a ketch. Karl Rove, confronted the Kenyan certificate said “it is almost certainly a forgery.”

And that whacky rodomontade, the National Review’s Corner blog, still entertains the occasional fringe-dweller willing to mumble that maybe there’s something in this, needs examination etc etc …

But it’s easy to see why the US Right can’t perform this most basic of political functions — the line between fantasy and reality has been so blurred on so many other issues, that it’s impossible to implement when it’s really needed. After all, one of the big books for the right in 2008 was Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg, which took the undoubtedly true observation that elements drawn into fascism — a celebration of nature, the organic etc etc — also pop up on the left, to thereby argue that fascism was entirely a left-wing movement.

Which left him arguing that while the Iraq war (“my God is bigger than their God”) could not be described as fascist, the Whole Foods supermarket chain could be.

When people like this are your intellectual leaders — Goldberg, the son of the woman who released the Monica Lewinsky tapes in the 90s, is online editor of Nation Review — the withdrawal from the reality-based community is complete. Thus, at the beginning of the Obama administration, Goldberg and others were debating whether it was more effective politically to describe Obama as a socialist, a communist, or a fascist (it’s a trick question).

The bizarre “tea-parties” movement — protesting at, um, a legitimately elected representative government imposing taxation — has now fluttered and died, despite its initial bankrolling by FOX News, with a little of that two billion that Rupert just lost.

And on it goes. That the right can no longer draw a border between the merely extreme and the insane is a sign that clinical paranoia has taken over as the house style — the moment at which the outside world is reorganised to match the mental picture of it, rather than v-v.

The birthers cannot accept that a black man is President — it’s a category error, so their mind finds a way to believe he isn’t. That’s obvious, but the more subtle form is that the right cannot accept that the US people chose a moderately left-liberal government, so they have to define it as a fascist coup.

The bad craziness explains one single fact about American political life — even though Obama’s ratings are going down, as difficult decisions and messy compromise take their toll, those of the Republicans aren’t going up.

Which is why we managed to smuggle in a Communist Luo tribesman right under their noses…

Peter Fray

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