The Shutdown's Radical Birther Streak That the Press Can No Longer Ignore

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Common Dreams

The Shutdown's Radical Birther Streak That the Press Can No Longer Ignore

Over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the architect of the Republican effort to shut down the federal government, spoke at a Washington, D.C. rally, hosted by activists who were angry that the nation's memorials had been closed as part of the government shutdown. Sarah Palin also addressed the crowd.

Soon after Cruz spoke, and after Palin handed out small American flags, organizers turned to Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman. Best known in recent years for his evangelical pursuit of birtherism and all half-baked conspiracies related to the debunked claim that Barack Obama wasn't born in America and that he's an undercover Muslim, Klayman told cheering activists in Washington that the president "bows down to Allah." He announced that Obama's "not the president of 'we the people, he's a president of his people," and that Obama needed to "put the Quran down."

The Obama's-a-foreigner ugliness fermented by Klayman was soon showcased after shutdown protesters marched to the White House where, according to the conservative Washington Times, the crowd numbered "about 200," including curious onlookers. Outside the White House gates, one conservative protester waved a Confederate flag, and when local police arrived to secure the area they were greeted with calls of "brown shirts," while one demonstrator commented the scene "looks like something out of Kenya."

Note also that the recently failed right-wing truck rally in D.C. was organized by a proud online birther, and that attendees to the far-right Value Voters Summit in Washington over the weekend were invited to hear addresses by birther exhibitionists Joseph Farah and Jerome Corsi.

If anyone's surprised that a proud and unapologetic birther (in 2013!) was front-and-center at a right-wing anti-Obama rally this week, or that the birther charade plays a central role in government shutdown activism, then they haven't being paying close enough attention to the conservative movement in America.

And that includes most members of the Beltway press corps.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow recently addressed the birther issue and stressed the importance of it in terms of understanding today's radical Republicans in the House:

MADDOW: They have a different sense of what is normal. They have a different sense of what counts as reasonable politics in America -- and failing to appreciate that, means that we fail to develop reasonably accurate expectations for their behavior. And that has become really important.

That failure to appreciate helps explain why the shutdown to defund a three-year-old health care law remains so perplexing to most outside observers. Viewed through the prism of traditional partisan politics, it doesn't make any sense. It's a shutdown about nothing. It's a shutdown devoid of content or purpose. (Defunding was never a realistic outcome.) It's certainly a shutdown that was executed without any clear goals by Republicans, or anything that even resembled an endgame strategy.

The extraordinary shutdown maneuver, based upon unprecedented demands, only begins to make sense when the truly extremist nature of the GOP'S activist base is taken into account. It's a rabid base where blowing through the nation's debt ceiling, and plunging the global economy into chaos, is considered a justifiable consequence to brinkmanship. Yet at the same time, it's a group where loud voices claim Obama can be impeached for defaulting on the national debt -- and for raising the debt limit.

And it's a base that still clings to the dark fantasy that Obama's an African-born impostor who's ineligible to be president or to command the U.S. military. And yes, Republican members of Congress still push that nonsense; House Republicans who fueled the futile shutdown. (i.e. "There's no question President Obama's hiding something on his citizenship.")

Amidst the avalanche of news coverage and commentary about the shutdown, the birther strain that runs through important parts of the Republican Party remains essentially off limits for Beltway reporters and pundits. That's a mistake. I'm not suggesting it's the dominant story of the day or that it requires constant attention. (Or that birtherism afflicts Senate Republicans.) But it remains a pivotal flash point that provides crucial context for trying to understand the completely unprecedented nature of the current crisis and the mindset fostering it.

The media's birther blind spot is part of the larger press problem in its failure to grasp, and accurately detail, the truly radical nature of the procedural sabotage that Republicans are engaging in; the plotted chaos and dysfunction that's being employed in hopes of halting Obama's second term. (A second term that couldn't be stopped at the ballot box.)

Based on the current coverage, it seems the press is still busy covering the last major government shutdown. Meaning, the press is still using the same newsroom blueprint from 1996 and asking those dated questions about fractured relations between Democrats and Republicans. They're still asking what it will take to get a "deal" done and why can't the two sides just hammer out budgets cuts? (After all, both sides are to blame.)

But very little of that applies to what's been unfolding in recent weeks.

How can you compare the previous government shutdown to today's fiasco when key, powerful players involved in the GOP shutdown movement think the president was born in Kenya, or at least have deep suspicions? And this is after Obama presented his long-form birth certificate.

* Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa): "The Iowa Congressman noted that his staff had investigated the matter and found birth announcements in the two Hawaii newspapers the week after Obama's birth. However, King went on to float the absurd notion that his parents 'might've announced that by telegram from Kenya.'"

*Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC): ""2012 is the time we're going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is,' Meadows said to applause at a June 9 tea party rally. 'We're going to do it!'"

*Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL): He "told supporters he would back a bill to investigate the authenticity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate."

*Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas): "One of the things I always questioned was the documentation of the president, whether that was fraudulent," he explained."

*Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) : "Let's go back and revisit some of these things because Americans have questions about not only the IRS scandal but also about the president's validity."

* Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas): "I think unfortunately the horse is already out of the barn on this, on the whole birth certificate issue."

*Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC): "There's no question President Obama's hiding something on his citizenship."

*Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO): "I have doubts that it is really his real birth certificate."

Answer: You can't compare the two shutdowns.

The truth is Republicans have always bristled at birther coverage (they know it makes them look bad), and have counted it as a liberal media 'gotcha.' In response, the press has largely backed off the topic, to the point where when Sarah Palin delivered a keynote address at a Tea Party conference, and when shared the podium in 2010 with a birther who received a standing ovation for presenting his cockamamie 'evidence' of a Kenya conspiracy, the press politely ignored Palin's associations with the wing nuts.

It's time for the press to stop being polite and start telling the truth about today's GOP.

Crossposted at Media Matters for America.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America.

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