Seriously, Do You Know What Obama’s Birth Certificate Says? Have You Seen It?

Jul 23, 09 | 9:45 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I was on a train over the weekend, going to a perfectly respectable garden party in Connecticut, when a fellow guest, another writer—a liberal, I would have assumed—started in on this Obama birth certificate stuff. I think he wanted to say that this whole business was a bit of political insidiousness, but within a second he was debating its merits.

If there wasn’t something here, well, why wouldn’t Obama have just plain come out and denied it? You know?

Now, my suspicion was that this fellow had had a few drinks before getting on the train—which may be relevant.

Lou Dobbs, who has been propounding this theory, has often seemed drunk to me. Indeed, Jon Stewart made great fun of Dobbs last night, pointing out that Dobbs’ own network, CNN, had meticulously debunked all of the theoretical circumstances underlying the conspiracy. Curiously, conspiracies are not all that susceptible to ridicule.

In fact, Lou Dobbs seems to flourish precisely because of his often drunken-seeming insistence on circumstances and sets of facts that have little to do with reason and reality. Also, the measure of a good conspiracy is that it can stand up to—indeed it grows strong in the face of—facts that absolutely contradict its central assumptions. Again, this has something to do, I believe, with drunkenness.

Partly, such conspiracies persist and grow because they are always pretty boring and if you are not drunk you cannot talk about them with any interest or attention—and even if you could, drunk people don’t listen to you anyway.

Conspiracies are really one-way conversations. Talking about a conspiracy allows you to pretend you are a television or radio host or talking head.

Also, conspiracies, even while they are boring, are more interesting than, say, health care. Certainly, on the train to Connecticut, I preferred a discussion about the birther business to what they do or do not do about hospitalizations in Canada.

The birther conspiracy may be a sign of right-wing desperation. If you can’t rattle the president any other way, make some stuff up about him. There were always none-too-successful efforts by the left wing to imply that George Bush had fallen off the wagon.

Some conspiracy theories can become quite powerful—and perhaps have a marked political effect. A not insignificant portion of the country actually seemed to have believed for a few years that Vince Foster was killed because…I can’t remember why. But it was a very detailed case about dark doings at the highest levels that confirmed the deep distrust of the Clintons.

Conspiracies, good conspiracies, do that: They confirm what you already believe. They’re metaphors, really, rather than facts. The birther conspiracy clearly makes the self-evident point that Barack Obama isn’t a white American.

Also, it is the middle of summer, when conspiracies flourish best, because people are drinking more and because nothing else is going on—except that health care stuff.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at

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