As I have documented here many times, one does not need to question Barack Obama’s birthplace or citizenship to be called a “birther.”
“Birther” simply is the new “racist,” an epithet thrown around at anyone who questions — or in the case of Mike Huckabee failed to accurately state — Obama’s narrative of his own life and world view, or vigorously opposes his policies.
Obama was the least scrutinized presidential candidate in modern history, and remains so. We know almost nothing about his upbringing other than what he has told us. The period of time from childhood through college is an almost empty canvass other than what Obama has painted for us.
Mike Huckabee has been tagged as a “birther” not because Huckabee questioned Obama’s birthplace or citizenship, but because Huckabee misspoke when he said Obama was raised in Kenya. In fact, as Huckabee’s follow up statement indicates, Huckabee meant Indonesia, where Obama did grow up during several years of his childhood.
But the “birther” tag is not sticking to Huckabee. Part of that has to do with Huckabee’s ability to laugh off such gaffes, and part has to do with Huckabee’s history of being gracious towards the First Couple.
But there is something else going on.
The controversy broke yesterday afternoon, but by mid-afternoon today it was almost gone from the pages of Memeorandum, as other issues have moved to the top, such as the mob scene outside the Madison Capitol and the Supreme Court decision in the Westboro Baptist Church case. Memeorandum is not a perfect measure, but it is a reflection of how long a story stays active, and in the case of the Huckabee “birther” gaffe, that time period was about 24 hours, give or take.
Whereas in the past Media Matters and the left-blogosphere could keep a “birther” controversy alive for days, the half-life has dropped to a matter of hours.
Public views on Obama’s personal narrative have pretty much formed at this point, so people will believe what they want to believe in the absence of something truly new. And with the Democratic Governor of Hawaii and media liberals like Chris Matthews questioning why Obama has not released his original birth certificate to put the issue to rest, the charge of “birther” has lost much of its power.
The half-life of a “birther” controversy has diminished dramatically due to overuse. That is not good news for Obama.
With the economy stalled, unemployment stagnant, our national debt soaring, our world position in ruin, and a growing national malaise which makes us long for the days of Jimmy Carter, team Obama is going to have to come up with a new tactic for tearing down the opposition.
Update: Ben Smith gets it exactly right in response to a post by Adam Serwer at WaPo claiming that criticism of Obama’s world view is rooted in racism (emphasis mine):
Is the idea that Obama’s intellectual history should be tied to his personal narrative and to a father whom he barely knew really all that crazy or racist? I recall some guy writing a book along those lines once. Obama has also spoken himself about the impact growing up in the developing world has had on his views.
More broadly, the line that Serwer’s dismissing here is the fringe of an argument that’s worth taking seriously: Obama’s roots in politics, to the degree he thought about foreign policy at all, are on the left, in the campus anti-nuclear movement and in an academic Chicago milieu in which Palestinian activists recalled him as sympathetic. He moved right on all sorts of things as he approached the national stage, but as he puts a very personal stamp on American foreign policy at a turbulent moment, it’s legitimate to look at his personal education.
That isn’t to say the fringe of that argument isn’t fringy or easily demolished. But the belief that Obama’s personal history affects his foreign policy is hardly racism, “stripped down to its core” or not.