The holy grail of physics is the Grand Unification Theory, an all-encompassing theory about the forces in the universe. In the same vein, my holy grail is a unifying theory of the birthers.
A sample conspiracy theory
Let’s take a very abbreviated walk through conspiracy thinking. Here’s a sample question: war brings misery; why do it? One approach to explaining war is to ask “who benefits?” One answer is the arms merchants. Both conspiracy theories and popular fiction expand on that theme. Conspiracy theorists who seek to explain war in terms of the secret machinations of the arms merchants will collect bits of information and interpret them to support that theory. The theories are based on real events and real evidence – only the conspiracy aspect is speculative.
Birtherism asks this initial question: Barack Obama is a despicable person; how can he be elected President? Their answer is that he can’t and that he wasn’t. Birthers collect bits of information and interpret them to support that theory.
The difference between our sample and the birthers is that the evidence the birthers collect is stupid. Their birth certificate analysis is inept and/or deceptive, their legal theories are crank, their supporting documents are fake, they misquote and misrepresent their sources, and of course the initial premise in their question is false. It’s really a pretty sorry mess.
This leads us to the first unifying principle: stupidity.
I won’t take the time to repeat examples of what everybody already knows: birthers hate Barack Obama. They believe that he’s willfully destroying the country – something that the vast majority of Americans haven’t noticed. The reasons for the hatred may be several: envy, racism, religion, internationalism, liberalism or regionalism. In each case, the birther identifies Obama as different and foreign.
Our second unifying principle: demonization.
My theory is not very well developed at this point. Demonization of the Other is a very powerful primitive emotion and the question is whether or not this plus simple stupidity along with the catalyst of the Internet is sufficient to explain birtherism. Is it also necessary to add a conspiracy theory about a powerful cabal of wealthy conservatives acting through covert political operatives to explain how the hatred and the stupidity came together to form the birther movement?