The first encounter I had with what is now commonly known as a "birther" was right after the 2008 election. It was with one of my family members:
"Obama wasn't even born in this country," she-who-will-remain-nameless proclaimed.
"No, you've got it mixed up. McCain wasn't born in this country," I said. "He was born in Panama, but it was a U.S. territory at the time."
"No it's Obama. He was born in Hawaii and Hawaii wasn't a state yet."
"Hawaii became a state in 1959," I busted out with some grade-school civics class knowledge.
And then, there it was, the thing birthers have come to be known for: My name-withheld family member then sighed and muttered, "Well, I don't know."
"No, you do know. Because I just told you." I thought, but didn't dare yap aloud. "Hawaii was a state in 1959 and Barack Hussein Obama was born in 1961. He just won the election by the biggest margin since Ronald Reagan and he's going to be the first half African-American president of the United States."
"Well, I don't know," she continued, sure of herself. Then, she switched tactics: "He won't show anybody his birth certificate."
"I've seen it online," I said.
"Well, I don't know. It's suspicious. Don't you think it's suspicious? He won't show anybody his birth certificate."
"But he does. He has. I've seen it. Online."
"Well, I don't know. I think he should show it. It's interesting though, huh?"
No. No it's not interesting. There's nothing interesting. There are questions. Here are answers. Refusing said answers, doesn't mean there are still questions. Furthermore, refusing other answers and holding tight to doubt, then blaming the proof-provider for not being forthcoming does not equal "interesting."
"Well, I don't know."
Now, it's taken on a whole witch trial vibe. Very Malleus Maleficarum (1486's best-seller "The Hammer Against Witches"). The first YouTube clip of this was of a woman showing up to Rep. Mike Castle's town hall in Delaware bleating Obama, according to her, is a citizen of Kenya. That means it's to prove a negative. Their evidence is their own suspicion and the only acceptable defense is Obama stepping down as president.
"'Barack Obama is a citizen of the United States. Why not release your birth certificate?' What is the big deal with saying that?" asked CNN's "give us your huddled masses" opponent Lou Dobbs on the July 28 edition of his radio show last year.
What's the big deal with saying that? What's wrong with saying that is the simple fact Obama HAS released his birth certificate. That's what's wrong with saying it. It's like saying there were WMD's in Iraq. It's not true. It's been proven to be untrue. So what's wrong with saying that is -- it's wrong.
But birthers don't want proof of what they don't believe. They want to hold onto doubt regardless of evidence.
It's like drawing a saddle on a dinosaur. It doesn't make it accurate. It just shows one's convictions trumping overwhelming evidence. The birthers position is like asserting the earth is flat, because when they flew around it they had their eyes closed.
Being a birther should disqualify you from serving on a jury let alone in Congress. But, Bill Posey, a freshman Representative from Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel he couldn't swear on a stack of bibles whether Obama is or isn't an American. He and other Republican congress people have been playing up the "non-denial denial" of this fiction. So willful ignorance on the part of the accusers is now giving the story more legs.
The origin hysteria of this is the holdover from the "love it or leave it" and "these colors don't run" crowd (my family). Their unflinching jingoism is now misplaced since there is a funny-named, dark skinned guy in the White House. Everything American is good. We don't like Barack Obama. Therefore, he must not be American.
Which could be progress since those of African descent in America were once not considered human.
But still, spiteful denial is what passes for healthy skepticism?
Well, I don't know.
Tina Dupuy is an award-winning writer and the editor of FishbowlLA.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.