The Obama-is-not-a-citizen movement started during the campaign, but as David Kuhn writes at Real Clear Politics, discussion of the birth certificate issue has exploded in the past month, pushed mostly by Obama supporters as part of a political tactic against Republicans:
But the treatment of the "birthers" is peculiar. I went on Nexis and did a search of the broad "news" category of the phrase: "birth certificate" and Obama. In the past month there were 564 pieces on the subject (302 in the past week alone!). That is more than half of all the pieces on the subject written before Election Day 2008, which totaled 1,051. Major broadcast outlets from MSNBC to National Public Radio have devoted hours of coverage to the subject in the past week....Kuhn plays it a little coy, but he basically has it right. Media Matters, Think Progress, and a host of left-wing blogs all became obsessed with the Birther theory and movement in the past month, as opposition mounted to Obama's health care plans. What better than to distract attention.
Why, then, all the attention now? I've seen the footage of the congressman asked about the birth certificate during a town hall meeting. I've seen the footage of the other conservative representatives asked about it on the Hill. But I don't think that justifies the outsized coverage of late.
Consider that health care reform, what is likely the signature piece of legislation of Barack Obama's presidency, is on the rocks. Secondly, we just had one of the most significant debates about race in American life in some time. Then there are those wars, the economy, spending bills, matters like that.
But it is backfiring. It's like telling people not to think about something, which virtually guarantees they will think about it.
So it is not surprising that a DailyKOS poll reveals that 23% of Americans either believe that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.A. or are not sure. The percentages are highest among Republicans and in the South. Considering how hard the left-wing blogs have been harping on the issue (and the tendency of many people only to read headlines), it is not surprising that the perception, or at least uncertainty, as to Obama's citizenship is growing.
Nonetheless, the percentage of people who believe Obama is not a citizen still is lower than the percentage of people who believed that George Bush "stole" the 2000 election. The Gallup Poll revealed that as of Bush's inauguration in 2001, 24% of people thought Bush stole the election against Al Gore, while an additional 31% felt Bush won "on a technicality." This perception persisted even after a newspaper consortium re-count found that Bush would have won using the type of re-count demanded by Gore.
Other Democratic inspired conspiracy theories included that Bush stole the 2004 election (completely debunked here), that Trig Palin was not Sarah Palin's son, that Bush "lied us into war," and most recently, that Bush concealed the Arctic ice shelf.
Democrats used the conspiracy theory as political tool effectively against Bush. And clearly the Democrats love the Obama-is-not-a-citizen conspiracy theory because of the political value. But having raised the theory into the media and political mainstream, there is no turning back.
Much like "Bush lied us into war" and "Bush stole the election," it is too late to unring the bell on the public consiousness as to Obama's citizenship, regardless of the truth.
UPDATE: David Kuhn cites a spring 2007 Rasmussan poll as showing how effective Democratic "truther" attacks on Bush were among Democrats:
That poll found that only 39 percent of Democrats believed W. Bush did not have advance knowledge of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, while 26 percent said they were unsure and slightly more than one third of Democrats believed W. Bush knew his country was going to be attacked.
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