I was going to debunk Andy McCarthy’s un-sourced descent into the fever swamps of ”Obama Birther-ism”, but Philip Klein has already gone and done the work for me, so go give his piece a read. How McCarthy’s “article” got through editing unscathed is beyond me (Did no one think to mention that one of his primary sources is the crazed purveyor of the infamous Michelle Obama ‘whitey’ tapes?), but what’s even more bizarre is the reaction he’s elicited from several other prominent conservative commentators. Here, for example, is Quin Hillyer giving McCarthy a friendly “attaboy!” over at The American Spectator. National Review’s Mark Steyn is similarly enthusiastic. At First Things, The Anchoress has also decided to dive in head-first, approvingly linking to this conspiracist fantasy. For those of you keeping score, that makes three mainstream conservative publications – National Review, The American Spectator and First Things – now publishing this tripe.
One response to a poll indicating that nearly a third of Republicans have bought into the “Birther” conspiracy is to recall a similar poll from 2003 that showed conspiratorial sentiments among a wide swathe of Democratic voters. And fair enough – after enduring three presidential election cycles, it has become abundantly clear that the ignorance of the American electorate transcends party lines. But it’s more than a little jarring to watch conservatives who should know better actively egging the conspiracists on. As Klein notes in a later post, it’s not as if we’re running short on substantive issues here.
More jarring still is the obvious double-standard at work here. Andrew Sullivan – whose pointless indefatigable pursuit of Trig Palin’s “real” mother is just as silly as the “Birther” obsession – was roundly (and rightly) condemned by conservatives for harassing Sarah Palin.* Ron Paul – whose associations with racist and conspiratorially-minded newsletters came out during the campaign – was also read out of the movement after those connections were exposed. I’m OK with ignoring racists or people who operate outside the bounds of rational discourse, but I can’t help noticing that McCarthy’s latest rant is at least as unhinged as any theory involving Trig Palin or the North American Union. And yet McCarthy’s thinly-sourced “article” has barely attracted a peep of protest from the rest of National Review’s contributors, while Sullivan and Paul continue to be condemned for their views. Why does the movement’s response vary so dramatically from person to person? I can’t help noticing that Paul and Sullivan (whatever their faults) at least raised uncomfortable questions about torture, surveillance and the War in Iraq, whereas McCarthy is basically a doctrinaire conservative. As with so many other things, toeing the party line – as opposed to faulty logic or distasteful views – has now become the litmus test for determining whether a conspiracy theorist is worth listening to.
* Obligatory Sullivan disclaimer: As with every other contributor to this site, I’m an unabashed fan. I continue to enjoy reading his stuff on a range of issues, but the Trig conspiracy is quite clearly nuts.