The political environment has been made slightly more tolerable over the past year by the crippling blow dealt to birtherism by the President's long form birth certificate. All but the most hardcore right wing conspiracy theorists – the "No Planes" part of the far right, if you will – have abandoned the idea that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii. This is not to say, of course, that they have accepted his legitimacy as an elected official or as an American.
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Using the Conservative Scientific Method (start with the conclusion and work backwards, disregarding any evidence to the contrary) it is still perfectly logical to conclude that Obama is an interloper and a fraud. If he wasn't born in Kenya, then he must have been raised Muslim. If he wasn't raised Muslim, then he must have cheated his way into college. If he didn't cheat his way into college, then Harvard only took him because he was black. And so on. The conclusion always remains the same even though everything leading up to it changes: He is Not One of Us. He is a hoax. He is illegitimate. Somehow.

The latest theory – circulated mostly through forwarded emails from your insane relatives – focuses on a promotional pamphlet printed by a literary agency in 1991. In it, the short bio clip identifies Obama as born in Kenya and raised in Hawaii. This is confirmed real and is not a clumsy photoshop:

The literary agent has stated that this was a mistake. It's not hard to picture a 23 year old assistant editor seeing the Kenyan father and assuming that Obama himself was born there.

"This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me–an agency assistant at the time," Goderich wrote in an emailed statement to Yahoo News. "There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. I hope you can communicate to your readers that this was a simple mistake and nothing more.


Nonetheless, anything stating that Obama was born in Kenya is bound to ignite a firestorm. Yet logic would suggest that a birth certificate, along with the other documented evidence, trumps some press release. Compounding the difficulty in making a big deal out of this, most conservatives have already buried the birther theory. But leave it to Breitbart (from beyond the grave) to turn this into a new conspiracy theory:

Andrew Breitbart was never a "Birther," and Breitbart News is a site that has never advocated the narrative of "Birtherism." In fact, Andrew believed, as we do, that President Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961…

Yet Andrew also believed that the complicit mainstream media had refused to examine President Obama's ideological past, or the carefully crafted persona he and his advisers had constructed for him. It is evidence–not of the President's foreign origin, but that Barack Obama's public persona has perhaps been presented differently at different times.

OK. Here's how it works.

Barack Obama was not born in Kenya, but he said he was in order to move himself up the academic ladder.
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His grades (which have not been released to the public, an integral part of this theory) at Occidental College were not good enough to get him into Columbia, nor were his Columbia grades sufficient to get him into Harvard Law School. So he lied and claimed Kenyan birth on his applications, which (per the theory) gave him some sort of advantage in the admissions process. Thus "birtherism" was all Obama's fault. People suspected he might have been born in Kenya because he said that was the case when it suited his purposes.

So here are the two potential explanations:

1. A literary agent made a mistake.

2. Obama lied about his citizenship / nationality / place of birth over a 15 year period as part of a conspiracy to advance his academic and professional goals.

Both of these are plausible. Given that, the law of parsimony would lead us to the one that requires the fewest assumptions, unproven assertions, and leaps in logic. In short, which one is simpler?

Which is more plausible? It's possible that the "Obama lied" theory is correct. But it seems pretty unlikely compared to the alternative explanations.

If a theory this convoluted is necessary to make sense of your predetermined conclusions, there is a good chance that you're making shit up. That obvious fact is remarkably easy to overlook if you're 100% convinced that Barack Obama is a fraud. The phrase Unnecessarily Complex does not enter into your thinking. You will develop some theory, find evidence somewhere, and substitute "likely" for "plausible" to make sense of it all. And no matter what Obama says, does, or makes public, this parade of inane conspiracies will never stop.


  • Objection! Best evidence: Birth certificates trump some promotional pamphlet written by a third party.

  • In fifty years or so, when textbooks are written that look back on this era in American (political) history, the Americans of the future will see how this one president, out of all of the others that came before him, was so vehemently resisted at every possible inch and turn by such a substantial segment of the population. How his legitimacy as an elected official was challenged so often and so violently, with no precedent to account for it. How, in the end, there was really only one thing marking him as different from the others in any real, meaningful way.

    We can only hope that they will be ashamed of this past, that they will recognize it for what it really was.

  • Pop quiz! Which is worse:

    1. The racists for whom Obama will always be illegitimate because he is not white.

    2. The non-racists who, because they disagree with Obama's policies, have no problem appealing to the racists to render Obama illegitimate.

    Admittedly, there is some overlap between the two categories, but what concerns me is that the dynamic–ringleaders and trained animals–that Group 2 is the minority throwing raw meat to Group 1, suggesting that there are a frighteningly powerful lot of those racists. I know I should no longer be shocked at the evidence that we're a country in which racism is thoroughly acceptable–in which it doesn't even have to be sub rosa anymore–but: *Damn.*

    But hey, kudos to the conservative wing of this nation's public discourse, when the most intellectually substantial rebuttal you can make to the policies of your opponents is "Well, your guy's a n*****r."

  • "But hey, kudos to the conservative wing of this nation's public discourse, when the most intellectually substantial rebuttal you can make to the policies of your opponents is "Well, your guy's a n*****r.""

    By reducing the political discourse to this, does it mean the Right is completely bereft of ideas, or is it a reaction to being bereft of ideas?

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Right wing crazies exist in almost every country in the world. Amazingly, they all think and behave very similarly. We all know ours. In France, they want to expel all immigrant. In Hungry they instituted a nightmare regime that makes Hungarians think lovingly about the previous communist regime. In Israel they vehemently oppose peace with the Palestinians and in the past hated every single peace agreement signed. It goes on …

    The right wing crazies thought the Bill Clinton is illegitimate too. They fought him tooth and nails from his first day in office to his last. Big Daug is white and a Southern, they couldn't pin Kenya or bad grades on him. (The guy will be the smartest guy in a room full of Nobel laureates.) But they invented deals that never happened, murders that were suicides and finally impeached him. Personally, I believe that Obama and Clinton got about the same crazy treatment.

    By the way, Obama is a fraud as a president. He doesn't have what it takes to be president. By the way, Obama's own crazies thought that Hillary and Bill Clinton are illegitimate racist. Such as nice guy and such nice supporters.

  • Major Kong says:


    "By reducing the political discourse to this, does it mean the Right is completely bereft of ideas, or is it a reaction to being bereft of ideas?"

    Short answer – yes. They haven't had a new idea since the Coolidge administration.

  • From Middle Seaman: "By the way, Obama is a fraud as a president. He doesn't have what it takes to be president. "

    From Article 2 of the Constitution: "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

    That and 270 electoral votes are what it takes to be president.

  • Clinton did get a lot of this rage, and was labeled a Marxist, socialist, etc. There was an entire video called The Clinton Chronicles which tied Clinton from everything to murders to drug trafficking. However, there is definitely a sharper tone to the criticism of Obama. First, it is easy to paint him as "foreign" or "other". Clinton's middle name wasn't Hussein. Second, we have seen numerous examples of attacks on Obama with racial angles. This did not happen with Clinton, for obvious reasons. And lastly, in the Clinton years, calling him a Marxist, Communist, or Fascist wasn't as mainstream as it was under Obama. There were even some occasions where hosts such as Limbaugh would mock the far right militia-types. Nowadays conspiracy theories about a North American Union or World Government are quite commonly discussed by mainstream sources.

  • Number Three says:

    The Occidental-Columbia grades thing is really dumb, for a reason that academic "insiders" well understand. Whatever the facts of Obama's case, in general, universities admit transferee students that they would never admit as freshman, for the simple fact that transferee students don't affect, e.g., "incoming student SAT score" statistics that are so important in rankings. In general, as well, transferee students are paying full freight (usually not eligible for university grants–don't know in Obama's case). Not sure how long this practice has existed, but, as a prof at a pretty good university with high admissions standards and stats, about 10 years ago . . . you could always tell who the transfers were.

    Again, I don't doubt Obama's intelligence. (No one with limited intellectual firepower could be elected president of HLR, full stop.) And I don't know the facts of Obama's transfer. But regardless, the sentence "Obama's Occidental grades weren't good enough to get into Columbia" doesn't scan for me.

    (Is this a somewhat cynical practice? Yes.)

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Look, the extreme right wingers got exactly what they wanted during the 8 years of the "Baby Doc" Bush Administration:
    Tax cuts for the rich.
    More deregulation.
    An event allowing them the cover to install a very right-wing agenda.
    Endless needless wars and occupation – off budget.
    A security state where privacy was yesterday's news, and everything's recorded.

    And best of all, they could demonize the left for not supporting all of the above.

    And the result was an unmitigated disaster.
    A nation on the brink of taking the whole worlds economy down the sh*tter with it.

    And they're upset, not because of the complete failure of following their moronic agenda, but, as if to spit in their faces, we didn't elect the pair that would continue that moronic agenda – Military-lover and former POW, John McCain, and his mentally defective running mate, "The Whore of Babblin' On," and instead, voted in, LEGITIMATELY (unlike W), a black guy with the unlikely name of Barack Hussein Obama.

    Their failure was so total, that a black guy with an African-Arabic-Muslim name took the place of their Reagan on steroids – George W. Bush.

    It's like the whole nation was laughing at them, and mocking them – which is what they deserved.

    And for the last 4 years, because they feel they've been belittled and mocked, they have done everything they can to make an African-American Democratic Centrist President, with a nice family, into some bomb-throwing radical, out to Mau-Mau the nation and install Sharia Law, and make fried chicken the national food, collards the national veggie, and watermelon the national fruit.

    And their answer to the disasters they wrought?
    Blame the black guy. he's not fixin' sh*t fast enough.

    And double-down on the agenda's that are turning this nation into the worlds best-armed Banana Republic.
    Yes, great idea's, Banana's Republicans – more tax cuts and deregulation!
    That's like taking a patient who's bleeding to death, applying leeches and opening-up a vein.

    And you know what?
    They might succeed.
    Might-could, at that.
    This nation is full of ignorant, stupid, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic, people, who are poorly served by a cowardly, compliant, and complicit MSM, which has it's own corporatist agenda, and all the Conservatives need to do to win, is to find enough wedge issues that hit enough people, and THEY WIN!

    They'll have taken that Kenyan/Socialist/Fascist/Communist/Heathen/Muslim/Atheist N*GGER Dictator, and beat him!

    We as a nation lose – because we go back to a Conservative agenda that is a proven failure.
    They'll say, without any self-reflection, that Conservatism didn't fail!
    Bush failed Conservatism.
    And the answer to over 30 years of failed-Conservatism, is MORE CONSERVATISM!!!
    Who on their side cares if the nation completely falls apart! Or breaks out in something close to Civil War?

    Party over county!
    PARTY UBER ALLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I know what the ancient Chinese said about living in interesting times.
    But what did they say about living in dangerous ones?

  • Major Kong says:

    From Middle Seaman: "By the way, Obama is a fraud as a president. He doesn't have what it takes to be president. "

    Of course, what's required to be President is whatever qualifications the GOP candidate in that particular election cycle happens to have.

    Former governor (except Massachusetts apparently) – then it's all about "executive experience".

    Long-serving senator with no executive experience – then it's just "experience". Only works for Republicans, of course. Long-serving Democratic senators are "Professional Politicians" who "Are out of touch with real America".

    Disgraced former Speaker of the House – He's an "outsider" with "fresh ideas".

    Failed oil-man? – He'll be the first "CEO President". And he's the guy you'd rather have a beer with anyway.

  • From the right, all it takes is some practical political cynicism to know that Mr Obama was 'born in the USA'

    The Clintonistas are nothing, if they are not thorough in the political evisceration process known as opposition research. Particularly in this case, the hatred between the two factions is palpable ("They played the race card on me" – Bill Clinton 2008 S.C. primary after action comments))

    If our young Prez was from Africa and ineligible – Bill, Hillary, and the gang would have nailed his butt in '08.


  • "His grades … were not good enough"

    As opposed to George W. Bush's grades.

    I used to think the "birthers" were all assholes but I recently encountered nice, probably not well educated fellow with leftist sympathies who was genuinely confused on this topic.

  • May I interject one mournful vote for an additional problem? Education, and the lack thereof. A nation who never passed the grammar school tests discerning "F" for fact from "O" for opinion certainly never learned the difference between primary and secondary sources. Everything from Soviet photo revision to Kennedy conspiracies to "Wag the Dog" to Photoshop has undermined our confidence in any kind of document, so what's left? Words?

    Sources formerly seen as reliable (unemotional accounts by knowledgeable witnesses, articles published in respected newspapers and journals) no longer carry weight. Everyone has a bias, a benefit, an owner, a lobby. We know they're lying (or slanted, at least) because everyone has an agenda and the truth is not part of it. We *really* know they are lying if they disagree with us.

    Ultimately you're either fer us er agin' us ("us" always defined as "the side of all that is good and right and decent.") And there will be ample "evidence" for both those sides. When brains can be tricked and facts can be falsified, all that's left is feeeeelings, and a moral compass unhindered by facts.

    The Left need to own up to the fact that they think Drone-Bombing Obama's the best chance we have right now. If he were born on Mars, we would vote the straight Martian ticket. The alternative is a Fascist theocracy, where slavery is replaced with "triangle trade" in schoolbooks and anyone with a vagina is a Virgin, a Whore, or a Decent Married (to a man) Wife.

    The Right need to own up to the fact that they will never support a black man with a name reflecting their two least liked ethnic groups (get three drinks into Bobby Jindal and see what he says), even if he's the best Republican president we've had in decades.

    Until we're all honest with ourselves, we won't be able to see the truth. We are a nation that rejects reality in favor of the illusions we prefer, and it's killing us.

  • I have to wonder if even obliging this bat crazy nonsense to reasoned analysis is giving the lunatic fringe that is today's Republican Party too much credibility.

    As others here have noted, Bill Clinton got the same treatment. He was white and he was from the South so they couldn't accuse him of washing up on our shores illegally but his legitimacy was never accepted by the crazy right.

    Al Gore and John Kerry were subject to the same sort of fictional crap when they ran for president.

    And Obama has a funny name, had a Kenyan father, did live in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather for a period of time and so it doesn't take that huge an intellectual leap (such as it is) for the crazies to twist his story into one that reeks of illegitimacy.

    All of which begs the question: Is there any chance the RINO's will take their party back and restore some measure of pre-Reaganite sanity to the GOP or are we going to have to continue to put up with these people until they completely destroy the country? (I'd say that we could have them killed but that is too un-lib a prospect to even consider. Besides, they have more guns than we do.)

  • @ladiesbane: Obama may be the best Republican president we have had since Ike but the sad fact is, that Republican party no longer exists.

  • Ed, I read G&T regularly, and you're usually really good. Your comments on conservative insanity and liberal hypocrisy are sharp, insightful, and witty without ever seeming like they're trying to be witty. You write quality stuff. But this thing today is an example of what you're not so good at, the whole "this illustrates such-and-such logical or scientific principle" thing. You always get these slightly but damningly wrong.

    The present scenario is NOT an occasion for Occam's Razor: it's not a situation with 2 explanations of the same thing. It's 2 totally different accounts explaining 2 totally different narratives. You might as well say: "here are the two potential explanations: 1. O.J. enjoyed a quiet evening at home. 2. O.J. ambushed and murdered two people at knifepoint, severing larynxes and vertebrae before returning to his truck in a trail of blood. Which one is simpler?" Occam never maintained that the truth was simpler. He just said that, as a rule of thumb, it's best to choose the hypothesis that makes fewer assumptions—from among hypotheses explaining THE SAME PHENOMENA.

    Incidentally, I agree with your conslusions in the present case (and presumably about O.J.). But we believe what we believe in each case because of a preponderance, or total lack of, evidence. Occam's Razor has nothing to do with it.

  • @ladiesbane

    "The Right need to own up to the fact that they will never support a black man with a name reflecting their two least liked ethnic groups …"

    To repeat myself (perhaps not original to me)

    If our President were but one shade lighter, I could support the ACA and the 10,000 pages of new regs…

    If he were two shades lighter, I would jump on board the Trillion dollar (including interest) stimulus.

    And if he were a completely White man – I would accept the rest of it and vote for him.


  • "If a theory this convoluted is necessary to make sense of your predetermined conclusions, there is a good chance that you're making shit up. "

    Also a nice summary – less than 25 words! – of what's ultimately so wrong about religion.

  • @bb

    You think the stimulus was expensive? Wait until Romney gets in there and starts his Iran war.

    You THOUGHT you knew what expensive looked like.

  • @bb:

    I believe it's fair to say that the generalization is not aimed at genuine disagreement with policy, as you have respectfully presented, but rather the CPACs full of "Barack HUSSEIN Obama" catcalls that oppose him for unsavory reasons beyond simple policy, but use policy as the cover.

  • mel in oregon says:

    here are the greatest threats to we the people. 1. the idiotic tea party. 2. the cia, fbi, homeland security, the militarized police forces in every american city & the pentagon. 3. wallstreet, the fed, & the treasury dept. 4. terrorist group such as al qaeda & the taliban. 5. people in america that vote for the sapheads that raise moronic issues like the birther issue.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    A white American woman travels halfway across the world in order to have her child in the middle of a civil war. Makes total sense.

  • These boneheads refused to believe a state-issued, state-verified vital document, but now an ephemeral marketing throwaway piece is the Rosetta Stone?

    As for the grades thing – well, FERPA protects student records, so of course no one has been able to "get" them from Oxy or Columbia. But transcripts simply show courses and grades, they don't show anything about how a student was admitted. Plus, as someone said above, it's a lot easier to transfer as a junior than to get accepted as a freshman. And he graduated Columbia in '83 and worked for a few years before going to Harvard Law – graduate school admissions are based on a lot more than just grades, especially when one has real-world work experience.

    Thing is, they would have used equally vile methods of marginalizing a Democratic president if it had been, say, Hilary – they just would have taken on a different flavor of ugliness.

  • Contemplating says:

    "If a theory this convoluted is necessary to make sense of your predetermined conclusions, there is a good chance that you're making shit up. "

    Politics aside, this sounds like a good response to a sizeable amount of the drivel that is published in my academic field.

  • the law of parsimony

    Are you kidding? I've had long debates with conservatives online about whether it was more likely that Obama said "57 states" by mistake or because he actually thought there are 57 states.

    These are also people who believe that climate science is a hoax designed to make Al Gore rich,

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