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Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The Birther Movement and Wing-Nut Theodicy
On Monday, Orly Taitz, the attorney from Orange County representing U.S. Army major Stefan Frederick Cook in the lawsuit contending that President Obama wasn't born in the United States, appeared on Rick Roberts' San Diego radio talk show. Taitz was completely unhinged, claiming that not only was Obama not born in the United States but that the Obama administration is "a Nazi regime." Taitz also made the following statement: "I could see where it is going. This guy [Barack Obama] is extremely dangerous. He is more dangerous than Stalin." Why would an educated person have such delusional beliefs? This makes sense only if one understands the American right's theology and theodicy.
The Right's Theology
It may seem unusual to discuss theological matters when discussing a contemporary American political movement but the American right has become a sectarian movement. Since the late 1970's, the Republican Party has embraced sectarianism and anti-intellectualism. The GOP has become God's Own Party. When George W. Bush said that he heard the call and that God wanted him to run for president, the hardcore elements of the Republican Party not only didn't think that was a doofy thing to say but that it was The Truth. In short, the GOP hardcore believes that the Republicans have been called by God to rule America.
When Bad Things happen to Wing-Nuts: The Sectarian Right's Theodicy
According to the belief system of the American Right, if a Democrat wins a presidential election, it's not a matter of the loyal opposition winning because there is not loyal opposition--God wants Republicans to rule. To the wing-nuts, it is a matter of theodicy (an attempt to explain why a loving God and evil co-exist). Democrats who win the presidency are of the Devil and are ipso facto illegitimate. When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, the first tactic was to claim Clinton was illegitimate because he didn't receive a majority of the vote (quick note: we quit hearing this argument from the Right after November 2000). The next attempt to delegitimize Clinton was to accuse Bill and Hillary of being mass murderers who were bumping off anyone who got in their way (it's no coincidence that the same people who promoted the satanic ritual abuse scare of the 1980's were the same people who promoted the Clinton Body Count mythology in the 1990's).
The contemporary Birther movement is the logical continuation of the attempts by the hardcore right to impute meaning to their lack of success at the presidential level. It makes not sense from the standpoint of a rational adult but it makes a lot of sense through the prism of contemporary wing-nut theology.
1993 versus 2009
The big difference between the wingnut attempts to delegitimize Clinton and Obama is that those who were involved in the former didn't pay a price for their irresponsible actions. However, most Americans rightfully view the Birthers as nutjobs (the other day on her TV show, Rachel Maddow quipped that it must have been a savvy Democratic operative who concocted the Birther movement). This is a healthy phenomenon. Why the difference? I have discussed the differences between the Clinton years and the Obama years in recent posts (e.g. here), but it comes down to two things: 1) The Clinton administration handled the radical right ineptly (e.g., here and here); and 2) The emergence of the left's blogosphere, MSNBC, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Media Matters for America.
UPDATE I: Media Matters has a comprehensive post on the Birther movement.
UPDATE II: Must view: watch Jon Stewart's hilarious take on Taitz and Birthers such as Lou Dobbs. LOL, the "lost Gabor sister."