The Download: The birtherism of a nation

According to a New York Times/CBS poll released last week, 25 percent of adults surveyed believe that President Obama was not born in the US. Among Republicans, the figure soars to 45 percent.

These people — so-called “birthers” who question whether Obama was born in the United States and therefore eligible under the Constitution to serve as president — do not seem particularly swayed by the repeated presentation of a birth certificate showing that Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961. Nor does the birth announcement printed at the time in a Honolulu newspaper do much to disabuse them of the idea Obama was born abroad, even though this requires a belief that his Kenyan father and American mother, living abroad, planted a phony announcement in a Hawaiian paper because they had a notion that their newborn biracial son might some day run for president — in a country where, at the time, blacks were still being thwarted from even voting in states throughout the South.

If birthers can’t be persuaded by facts, it’s probably time to put them on the analyst’s couch and try to understand the persistence of this belief. That’s just what the Times did last week, when it had seven experts weigh in on its “Room for Debate” blog on the topic of “The psychology of the ‘birther’ myth.”

For various reasons, write these academics — a mix of psychologists and political scientists — birthers are not particularly susceptible to the logic of reasoned argument.  Nicholas DiFonzo, a psychology professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says the reason is the “increasingly disconnected ideological echo chambers” that dominate current political life. Those who engage only like-minded people, simply reinforce each other’s views and don’t tend to challenge false rumors about the other side, he says.

James La Plant, a political science professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia, articulates well what may be the futility of trying to refute deeply-held birther belief. “I learned long ago that you will rarely win an argument with a conspiracy theorist,” he writes. “Conspiracy theorists have a profound distrust of the media and experts of all types. What most of us would consider solid evidence to quickly dismiss these charges would be rejected by birthers as frauds, fakes or manipulated documents.” La Plant says one also has to recognize that some birthers — he charitably pegs it as “maybe a small percentage — are driven by “old-fashioned racial hostility.”

Finally, there is also at play an element of straightforward ignorance that goes even beyond the realm of conspiracy theory.  LaPlant says that in a 2009 poll of North Carolina voters conducted by Public Policy Polling 26 percent of respondents did not believe Obama was born in the US, while 20 percent were unsure.  “A question later in the poll asked if Hawaii was part of the United States,” he writes. “5 percent of respondents said no and 3 percent were unsure.”

                                                                                                                                                                            –MICHAEL JONAS


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The Boston Herald publishes a lineup card for the upcoming trial of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi. The trial has Howie Carr licking his chops, and the state GOP looks to make political hay out of the political star power on the trial witness lists.


Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua denies any wrongdoing and says he “had no idea” that either he or his administration were the targets of a federal investigation, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Meanwhile, City Councilor Grisel Silva calls on Lantigua to step aside until the investigation is completed. House Minority Leader Brad Jones wants a full accounting of how Lantigua has spent the $35 million aide package Beacon Hill sent to Lawrence last year.

Longtime Northampton mayor Clare Higgins gets kudos from the Springfield Republican as she plans to step down for a position at a nonprofit.


US Rep. Stephen Lynch explains on Keller@Large how budget cuts proposed by both Republicans and President Obama will impact the Bay State.

At the National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy says only Obama can trigger a default if Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling, despite a growing chorus of bipartisan and nonpartisan warnings to the contrary.

And speaking of birtherism, Michael Bloomberg addresses Donald Trump, rich guy to rich guy, and urges the Donald to drop his birther shtick.


Doug Rubin highlights cracks in Scott Brown’s armor.

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The MetroWest Daily News voices its support for municipal health care reform.


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Trying to cut down on litter and litter removal costs, Beverly is removing all trash cans from one of its parks, the Salem News reports.


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Bloody brawl at alcohol-fueled baby shower in Lawrence ends with three arrests, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

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A University of Colorado law professor argues in The New Republic that law schools dramatically inflate figures on the percentage of graduates that find employment as lawyers in the months after graduation.


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