As a political movement, the birthers have really had no impact. Their leadership is viewed as clowns by everybody else and the only one of them to make any impact was the king clown himself, Donald Trump; and his brief participation in the birther movement turned him into political poison. Birthers have wasted time, theirs and others, not the least of whom is me. A few careers have been ruined, but not so many.
No, what is really troubling about birtherism is not what birthers believe, but how they process evidence. I was thinking about the war in Iraq today. You may recall that it was justified by a claim that Iraq was on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons. The whole Iraqi sales job on weapons of mass destruction was based on an argument as non-rigorous and as lacking in evidentiary support as the claims that Obama was not eligible to be President. The recognized experts were muzzled and decisions were made based on the desired result, not on the evidence. Indeed there were no WMDs in Iraq, and Barack Obama is eligible to be President. The war in Iraq happened because the Administration, the Media and most of the American people went birther.
Just today I was listening to a story about a number of new voting identification and proof of citizenship laws passed across the country, laws that will have the effect of making it more difficult for the poor, minorities and the elderly to vote. The justification is the prevention of fraud. The fact is that an American is more likely to be struck by lightning than they are to commit voter fraud. One state with a new strict ID law, Kansas, has had only 7 convictions for voter fraud over the past 13 years.
It has been estimated that there are now 65 million climate change refugees in the world. Efforts to combat global warming were delayed by birther-like arguments from the Bush administration. Remember the effectiveness of birther-science in delaying efforts to curb cigarette smoking.
Birtherism essentially is a movement of people who chose their reality based on what they wish things to be, not what the best evidence shows it is. So long as people think that way, real bad things happen, trillions of dollars are wasted, and hundreds of thousands of people die.
I could imagine a future time when the history of the Obama eligibility controversy is forgotten, but the phrase “birther” remains as a derisive term to describe someone whose belief system is based on partisan wishful thinking, detached from the evidence.