So why dignify these people with column inches when you could just laugh and move on? If they truly are brain-dead, then surely the oxygen of publicity only keeps their contributions in their present vegetative state. There is something to that. But while to engage them is clearly futile, to dismiss them would be reckless, for two main reasons.
First, the birthers are anything but a fringe group. They have found a sizeable audience for their fantasy. A poll last week showed that more than half of Republicans either believe Obama was not born in the US (28%) or are not sure (30%). Mainstream anchors on CNN and Fox routinely give them credibility. So far, 11 Republican congressmen have signed a "birther bill" that would demand a birth certificate from all future presidents. They may have no more credibility than the 9/11 truthers or those who denied the moon landings, but they certainly have more reach.
Second, however marginal they appear now, they were effectively running the country between 2000 and 2008. It was their birther logic (an oxymoron if ever there was one) that provided the mindset, legwork and frontline troops for the Bush era. Iraq was invaded because it could not prove that it did not have something it truly did not have. "We would say, 'Iraq should present any anthrax'," explained UN weapons inspector Hans Blix shortly after the invasion. "While the US and UK were inclined to say, 'Iraq should present the anthrax.'" Guantánamo Bay is still full of people who were incarcerated because they were not able to prove they were not guilty and whose guilt was to some extent inferred by their incarceration.
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