There is a controversy in the US about where Barack Obama was born ie was he born in the US or in Kenya. If it were the latter, under the constitution, Obama would be precluded from the presidency. Obama has provided a birth certificate establishing his birth place as being Hawaii but it has not satisfied his detractors.

The term used to denote the people who are challenging Obama’s legitimacy as president, because he was allegedly born outside the US, is “birthers”. There is also a group among the “birthers” who claim that even if Obama was born in the US he is not eligible to be president under the constitution because he is not “natural born” as called for by the constitution since his father was a Kenyan. Tangentially, there is a controversy ignited by former president, Jimmy Carter, that at least some of the opposition to Obama is related to his race.

The purpose of this post is neither to discuss the legal issues nor to discuss in any detail whether Carter’s charge of racism has merit. What I wanted to comment on is some polling I saw that is revealing and, perhaps, offers a clue as to how much of a factor Obama’s race is when it comes to the “birther” controversy.

Here are some salient findings (quoted almost verbatim) from two polls (Research 2000 & “Public Policy Polling”):

In the Research 2000 poll:

-“93 percent of Democrats say he was born in the country and 83 percent of Independents, the figure is only 42 percent for Republicans. A majority of Republicans either believe he was born abroad (28 percent) or don’t know (30 percent)

-“a majority of Southerners either believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States (23 percent) or are not sure (30 percent). Only 47 percent of Southern respondents believe Obama was born in the USA. By contrast, 93 percent of Northeasterns said yes, he was born here, 90 percent of Midwesterners did and 87 percent of Westerners.”

In the Public Policy Polling:

– “62% of Americans think Obama was born here, while 24% think he was not and 14% are unsure

– “10% of the country thinks that he was born in Indonesia, 7% think he was born in Kenya, and 1% think he was born in the Philippines.

– “That leaves 20%, which includes at least some people who correctly believe that Obama was born in Hawaii, but who don’t consider Hawaii to be part of the United States. You read that right- 6% of poll respondents think that Hawaii is not part of the country and 4% are unsure.

– “It’s hard to say what the rest of that 20% thinks. We did ask them if they thought Obama was born in France and while less than half a percent of respondents did, two thirds of that remaining 20% said they ‘weren’t sure’ whether Obama was a Frenchman.

“So who are the birthers?

-62% are Republicans, 20% are Democrats, and 18% are independents
-57% are conservatives, 33% are moderates, and 9% are liberals
-56% are men, 44% are women
-86% are white, 7% are Hispanic, 4% are black, and 3% are other races”

Now for my comments:

Americans are known for their almost abysmal lack of knowledge when it comes to anything to do the rest of the world. Some of the findings in the polls demonstrates this in spades and the fact that 6% of Americans don’t even know that Hawaii is part of the US illustrates what has been referred to as the “dumbing down” of America.

Shown below is an image, provided by Sareena, which pokes fun at the average American’s lack of knowledge of world geography:

I lived in the South during the 80s’ and I know for a fact that although Jim Crow may have ended with the civil rights movement, the attitude of whites who grew up in the South, before the civil rights era, was still unchanged with regard to, for how they viewed blacks. For the most part, blatant racism was a thing of the past but attitudes to blacks were in many cases unchanged. So the predominance of “birthers” being from the South would suggest that race may be a factor.

The other side of the coin, however, is that Obama would never have been elected president unless a significant number of whites voted for him. So although the opposition to him may be, in part, because of his policies and outright misinformation and disinformation about those policies being spewed by the right-wing, at least in areas outside the South I have to believe that his race is probably not a factor.

John Stewart, a brilliant satirist/comedian did a terrific segment on the “birther” movement in his “Daily Show” program. Check it out here because it perfectly illustrates the sheer nonsense associated with the accusations by the “birthers”:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
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Incidentally, the South voted consistently Democratic in elections until the Civil Rights legislation was passed in the mid-sixties. At the time, former president Lyndon Johson – who was from Texas – and who spear-headed the civil rights legislation said that the passage of the legislation would result in the South being lost to the Democrats for an entire generation. He was right – except that the loss has extended well beyond a generation and still shows no sign of reversing.

6 Responses to ““Birthers”, racism and the “dumbing down” of America”

  1. saira says:

    i LOVE that map!

  2. Gene says:

    As of February 2011, it is now 51% of Republicans who believe Obama was NOT born in the USA, and another 21% are not sure. That means only 28% of Republicans believe he is actually eligible to be president, an astounding figure. And that number will increase the longer this issue goes on. For sure, it is hurting him.

    So why doesn’t he clear it up? Obviously, his incessant efforts to block the public from seeing his long form birth certificate have not worked. So rather than spend another million dollars on the three law firms he’s used to prevent us from seeing it, why doesn’t he merely spend the $25 on a certified copy of the long form birth certificate, and end the whole issue once and for all? What’s he hiding? What doesn’t he want us all to see?

  3. TJ says:

    Although it may surprise you, I agree that Obama should release his long form birth certificate.

    Where I part company with you is your statement that it would “end the issue once and for all”. It will do nothing of the sort because what you are missing is that this goes beyond the question of where he was born. It boils down to a basic attempt to question his legitimacy for a variety of reasons ranging from outright racism, the belief that he is a closet Muslim, that he is a socialist, that a Democrat is president, etc.

    You know perfectly well that there are those who say that even if he was born in the US, he is still not eligible to be president because of the so-called “natural-born” argument: his father was a Kenyan and not an American and therefore Obama is not “natural-born”.

    So, to think this will be put to bed even if he releases the long form birth certificate, is wishful thinking. His detractors will resort to the “natural-born” argument and the conspiracy buffs will doubtless claim that the long form has been doctored or is in some way questionable.

    Let us not forget that there was a concerted attempt to destroy Clinton’s presidency – and there was no question as to his right to be president. From the day Clinton was elected there was a vocal minority who opposed him every step of the way.

    But in the ultimate analysis it does not matter because the 51% of Republicans who do not believe Obama was born in the US would never vote for him under any circumstances – so convincing them does not matter.

  4. Gene says:

    If you agree with me that Obama should release his long form birth certificate, then we have no argument. Doing so WILL end this issue once and for all, because the potential illegitimacy of his Presidency rests on the possibility that he was not born in the USA. If he was born in Hawaii, he is eligible. If he was not born in Hawaii or anywhere else in the USA, he is not. Period. End of story. And that has absolutely nothing to do with his being black, being a “closet Muslim”, being a “socialist”, or being a Democrat (Huh?). Yes, you may find people objecting to his presidency on those grounds, just like I’m sure you can dig up some nut jobs who may object to someone being president because he is white, Christian, capitalist, or a Republican. But releasing the birth certificate would convince civilized people of his legitimacy for the office, and that would be enough. That is clearly not the case right now. Nice try on that argument, but we’ve heard that one before.

    I can’t comment on your “natural-born” statement, and I think you are misunderstanding something there, but in any case, providing the long form birth certificate will end any such controversy as well.

    Yes, I’m sure there will be those who will say it is “doctored”, and the fault there lies largely with Obama, as he has allowed this issue to linger for so long. If he provided it back when the Hillary campaign (and NOT Republicans) first raised it in 2008, the issue would have long died by now. At this point, he is like the little boy who tells his doubting mother that he got on A on his term paper when she expected an F, and that he can’t find the paper. The longer he waits and the more he refuses to satisfy the demands to see it, the more one becomes convinced that he’s hiding something. And you can extend that point to his college records, which he ALSO conveniently refuses to release. BTW, the same argument can be made for any other high-profile figure who is asked to show proof of his origins. I don’t know what makes him so special that he is exempt from having to provide such proof.

    This has NOTHING TO DO with any attempts to destroy impeached perjuror Bill Clinton’s presidency, any more than it does to the INCREDIBLE efforts to destroy (And don’t you dare tell me there wasn’t!) George Bush’s presidency. My God, what Bush was put through was simply unbelievable. He was blamed for absolutely everything one can imagine, including the WEATHER! So please don’t raise that, as this is another matter entirely.

    As for the 51% of Republicans who do not believe Obama was born in the US, I agree that they probably never would vote for him. But you miss the point. I’m sure many Independents, and possible even some Democrats now have their doubts as well. Whether we see the birth certificate or not, it really does not matter, as I think we are already winning on this issue.

    But in the end, we WILL see it, partly because the glimmer is definitely wearing off this “Wonder Boy”, and eventually, he WILL be out of power, and his minions will no longer be able to suppress it. But also, as the saying goes – no lie can live forever.

  5. TJ says:

    As I said, I have always felt that Obama should just release the long form of his birth certificate but having said that I part company with you on your other conclusions.

    There is no way this will settle the issue because those who believe that he is not a legitimate president according to the Constitution will cast doubts on the legitimacy of the certificate and others will argue that even if he was born in the US, the fact that his father was born in Kenya causes the “natural born” requirement not to be satisfied. Check out what some of the “birthers” have to say about this issue – I think Berg, one of the lead attorneys in various lawsuits has already made that claim and filed suit as has that Russian immigrant/lawyer/realtor/dentist.

    Re the race factor, I lived in the South for several years and although I personally did not encounter any discrimination as a South Asian American the hostility and bigotry against African Americans was readily apparent – and openly stated n the most disparaging manner.

    It is no surprise that the Republicans in the Northeast, Midwest and the West who are “birthers” are a relatively insignifcant percentage. The vast majority of “birthers” are from the South – and this fact from a region that barely 40 years ago had Jim Crow laws in effect suggests that race is a factor in the opinions of Republicans from that region.

    Finally, Obama will likely not release the long form of his birth certificate – and he would be smart not to do so from a political standpoint. It suits his purpose to have the “crazies” on the right wing continue to push this argument. It detracts from the real issues that Obama can be rightly criticized. Most independents think that Obama was born in the US and when Republicans push the “birther” argument, it acts as a turn off. It is the reason why some prominent right-wing Republican leaders want the issue dropped because it feeds into Obama’s play-book.

  6. Eugene says:

    Thank you for the writeup.

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