Today, with a precarious economy, rising gas prices and three wars under way, the President of the United States of America held a press conference to announce the release of his original birth certificate, to prove that he is eligible to hold his office and quell a controversy fomented by a reality-show judge who by some polls is the leading candidate to oppose him in the 2012 election.
[Pause to allow those readers, who so desire, to kill themselves.]
The release of the certificate—shockingly!—revealed that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, in 1961, as a human baby. It, and the subsequent press conference, drew saturation coverage from cable news. But not before Apprentice boss Donald Trump held a press conference in New Hampshire on the appearance of the birth certificate he declared “missing” on Anderson Cooper, um, two days ago. His humbled response: You’re welcome, America!
Trump’s remarks literally began, “I am very proud of myself.” Because of course he is. Because who wouldn’t be proud to have cynically embraced a toxic nutjob theory, on the basis of no good evidence, questioning the President’s legitimacy, then having his suspicions shown to be an Al Capone’s vault? Who wouldn’t be proud to have turned himself from a national punchline into a national punchline with a shot at a Presidential nomination, through sheer, up-by-the-bootstraps pandering to Internet conspiracists? That takes talent, folks!
Obama, for his part, gave a brief speech that, in the most tactful terms possible, amounted to: Jesus Christ, America. OK, I paraphrase. The President noted that, while he has trouble getting TV networks to break in for coverage of policy announcements, they scrambled out for a birth-certificate announcement like it was a declaration of nuclear war. “We’ve got better things to do,” he said. “I’ve got better things to do.” And he hoped that the country, and the political press, would stop being distracted by “carnival barkers.”
Oh, Mr. President: the carnival has barely pitched its tent. Let us count the ways in which it is not over:
* Conspiracists do not believe conspiracies because of evidence. They believe because they want to believe. Whatever subaltern message the birther theories actually represented—Obama is dishonest, Obama is alien, Obama is not one of us—those are not going away because of some silly fact. Expect the forwarded chain e-mail from your cranky uncle any day now, thoroughly documenting how the so-called “longform” birth certificate was not in fact long enough, was photoshopped, does not stand up to magnification, was planted in the files by ACORN or does in fact represent the birth of some baby named Barack Obama, who was abducted shortly after
Earth birth and replaced with a tiny cyborg created by gay Muslim communists.
* A corollary: Facts do not dispel conspiracy theories. Facts are raw material for future counter-theories.
* Conspiracies are fungible. OK, the birth certificate is out there—whatever. What about Obama’s academic records? Sure enough, Trump, in his own press conference, moved on to asking about those, as part of the argument that Obama was a poor student who didn’t belong in the Ivy League. Which may not have anything to do with policy, or the economy, or the actual job the the U.S. citizen elected President is doing. No matter: the sub-messages—Obama is dishonest, Obama is a usurper, Obama is an affirmative-action baby—are what matter.
* The birth certificate controversy was all Obama’s fault, anyway! No, seriously: this is an actual meme now. Why did he wait so long? Why did he let this become an issue? Why, Mr. President, did you force us to act like paranoid wackjobs for three years? Expect commentators to demand answers.
In short, the carnival will keep barking. Believers will keep believing. And be sure to tune in for the exciting finale of Celebrity Apprentice! You lucky, lucky country!