Obama and the nutballs: They won’t give up easily

Alexander Cockburn: It's a no-brainer to say that the Republicans today are politically insane

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:33 ON Thu 28 Apr 2011
Alexander Cockburn

Americans were offered proof yesterday, in the drab guise of the 'long-form' birth certificate signed and filed in Hawaii on August 8, l961, that their president is a legitimate occupant of the Oval office. But will the White House's release of the certificate finish off the 'birther' movement? Certainly not.

Harold Camping, president of Family Stations Ministry, has been preaching for some time now to a vast and devoted national audience that God's plan is to inaugurate the Second Coming and end the world by flooding on May 21, 2011 (thus trumping the end of the Mayan calendar, December 21, 2012).

Camping will be saying on May 22 that his math was merely a year or two off, and the end is still nigh. His congregation will have its faith fortified. Membership will probably increase as it did after the failure of Camping's last prediction of the Second Coming, which he scheduled for September 6, 1994.

Sociologists call the phenomenon of increased devotion to a batty theory, at the very hour of its destruction by external evidence, "cognitive dissonance".

Obama released the long-demanded certificate at a press conference where he declined questions but said the birther movement was becoming a distraction from serious political issues, fanned by "carnival barkers", by which he presumably meant Donald Trump, who's been campaigning for the presidency on the issue.

The words were hardly out of Obama's mouth and the document hardly lofted onto the White House website before leading birthers were expressing scepticism about the document, also insisting that anyway it was a "side issue" and distraction from the serious matter of Obama's qualifications as a "natural born citizen" as opposed to an ineligible Third World foundling from Kenya or Indonesia, as around 25 per cent of all Americans and 50 per cent of all Republlcans have come to believe.

Trump immediately claimed victory and vindication as the man who had forced the birthers' cause into the headlights.

Cognitive dissonance has become standard equipment for political scientists and reporters across America. They advance on a daily basis the premise that the Republican Party is guided by cunning and sophisticated manipulators of pubic opinion. They simultaneously report that the stated aim of these manipulators is to destroy two of the most popular and effective government programmes, Medicare and Social Security. Medicare is essentially socialised medicine for the elderly and Social Security keeps millions from homelessness and starvation in their sunset years.

Yet for months now the national press has been lauding as a principled and effective Republican crusader for budgetary disclpline US Rep Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who wants to end Medicare, handing it over to management by the "private sector", with similar brutal attacks on Social Security.

The bloc most likely to vote in any election are the older crowd, with Medicare Health Insurance cards in their wallets and getting their Social Security checks on the second Wednesday of every month. So it's a no-brainer to say that the Republicans today are politically insane, just as George Bush was in 2005 when he proclaimed that "reforming" Social Security was to be the prime cause of his second term.

Three months later, battered by furious protests by the elderly plus those younger folk with ambitions to slide into their seventies on a diet better than church shelter soup and a roof more durable than cardboard, Bush dropped the issue of reform for Social Security and Reform forever.

The Republicans are politically insane because the only way to "reform" – ie cut back these programmes – is to swear you're doing the opposite, the tactic of Bill Clinton. But the Republicans have been lapping up the plaudits of the elite press – the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal - doling out measured praise for Rep Ryan's responsible commitment to fiscal prudence.

But now Ryan and his fellow Republicans have gone back to their districts, discovering to their amazement that the voters have scant confidence in Obama's handling of the economy but even less in the Republicans' proposals.

In a report Wednesday headlined 'House G.O.P. Members Face Voter Anger Over Budget', certain to be read with deep alarm by those Republicans still endowed with powers of rational analysis, New York Times correspondents reported bluntly that "after 10 days of trying to sell constituents on their plan to overhaul Medicare, House Republicans in multiple districts appear to be increasingly on the defensive, facing worried and angry questions from voters and a barrage of new attacks from Democrats and their allies".

In Florida, filled with retirees, the NYT story continued, "a Congressional town meeting erupted into near chaos on Tuesday as attendees accused a Republican lawmaker of trying to dismantle Medicare while providing tax cuts to corporations and affluent Americans. At roughly the same time in Wisconsin, Representative Paul D Ryan, the architect of the Republican budget proposal, faced a packed town meeting, occasional boos and a sceptical audience as he tried to lay out his party's rationale for overhauling the health insurance programme for retirees."

Earlier this week, the governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, announced he was folding his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He said he realised he didn't really have the stomach for a prolonged and costly campaign.

Barbour is a "good old boy" Southerner, ample in girth and prone to dropping clangers on the race issue. He's also a pretty smart Washington insider who no doubt realised that only five months after the great Republican triumph in the midterm polls last November, the party has plummeted swiftly in public esteem, regarded as plain nutty by millions.

Obama isn't popular. Sixty-seven per cent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. His job "disapproval" rating stands at 49 per cent. Not so good. The job "disapproval" rating for Congress, with a House newly led by Republicans, stands at 71 per cent.

Current Republican presidential candidates are, in order of popular esteem for their candidacies: Christian evangelical Mike Huckabee who leads this field with a 17 per cent showing, circus barker Donald Trump, Mormon and failed aspirant in 2008 Mitt Romney, faded star Sarah Palin, adulterer Newt Gingrich, foe of Social Security and Medicare Ron Paul, nutball Michele Bachmann and a trio of two-percenters: Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and Rick Santorum, of whom former senator Bob Kerrey once memorably said, "Santorum? Is that the Latin for asshole?"

These are not impressive candidates. It's hard to imagine any of them offering a credible challenge to as adaptable and opportunistic a candidate as Obama, who has just assigned the man once regarded as a credible Republican presidential candidate, General David Petraeus, as head of the CIA, thus taking him off the political chessboard, at least so far as 2012 is concerned.

The only puzzle is why Obama finally released the long certificate after years of refusing to do so. Would it not have been better to keep this nutball issue in play? ·