Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sweet, Sweet Irony

These days I spend a lot more time thinking or reading about politics in the US than I probably should, and certainly more than I used to. It’s become an obsession (benign, I hope) that was born when Barack Obama was elected president. No doubt, a few million Americans on either side of the political divide could say the same, so groundbreaking was Obama's election.

A Birther trying to make a point.
Photo: Bonzo McGrue
The obsession isn’t only due to my hopes and excitement over a Democrat and African-American winning the White House. It’s was intensified, in large part, by the ferocious backlash by many conservative Americans to Obama. If Republicans in the heartland had grudgingly accepted President Obama’s legitimacy, reined in their more obstructionist instincts, and allowed Washington to get down to business as usual, I suspect I would have become bored with politics as a spectator sport by now.

That didn’t happen, though. The total and strident opposition from the right, in the form of the Tea Party, turned the political scene into a slow-motion train wreck that I couldn’t turn away from.

I see the Tea Party as mostly older, mostly white, sometimes illogical folks lashing out over the fact that things aren’t what they used to be, that the US got hit with a gigantic financial crisis, and that – Heaven Forbid! – the Democrats won an election. (It has to be said that for some, though I hope not most, it is also all about the color of Barack Obama’s skin.)

As fanatical (or fanciful) as the Tea Party sometimes can be, there’s a subset that’s even fringier  the Birthers. These are the folks who believe (or pretend to believe) that Barack Obama is not eligible to be president because, as they claim, he was born in Kenya and therefore is not a “natural born” US citizen, as required by the Constitution.

I personally know many people back in Georgia who could be characterized as Tea Party supporters. I hope none of them is also a serious Birther.

For Birthers, it’s not enough that Obama is an American by right of being born to at least one American parent (in his case, his mother). In the astute legal opinion of your average Birther, laboring away over a keyboard in a doublewide somewhere in the wilds of West Virginia, Obama would also have to be born on US soil to be “natural born”. American soil!

Despite the fact that all evidence points to Obama being born in Hawaii barely three years after that state joined the Union, hard-core Birthers refuse to believe it.

For this reason, most Birthers seem delusional (meaning there really is something wrong with them), or else they are cynical pranksters trying to egg on those others who are delusion.

The worst offender, in my mind, is Donald Trump, who made the Birther issue the linchpin of his so-called presidential campaign. He supposedly went so far as to send a crack team of special investigators to Honolulu on a loudly publicized, but insubstantial, wild goose chase to uncover the “truth” behind Obama’s origins.

I’m sure Trump never really believed the Birther nonsense (he’s not that stupid), but he was happy to stoke the conspiracy flames for his own self-promotional, giving the movement a sheen (very oily sheen?) of respectability. Because of this, my opinion of the man went from him being mildly ridiculous and obnoxious to being outright despicable.

(Ask my wife how I feel about Trump. She has seen me practically leap over the sofa trying to find the off switch on the remote whenever his face appears on TV. Following the Birther business, I cannot stand the sight of the man.)

Most Birthers, however, are true believers convinced that Americans born on foreign soil (and, for them, that means Obama) cannot rightfully be president. So, imagine my glee when, a few weeks ago, there was an unexpected turn of events in the Birther saga. And it came from deep in the heart of Tea Party country.

A rising star in the Republican Party is Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas and a conservative with impeccable Tea Party credentials

Cruz is smart. He graduated Harvard Law School – just like Barack Obama. And he’s ambitious. There’s already talk of him running for president in 2016, even though he’s only a one-term Senator – just like Barack Obama. He has an American mother and non-US father – just like Barack Obama. And he was born on foreign soil – just like Barack, wait, no, not like Barack Obama.

Unlike Obama, Cruz is the real deal. He actually was born abroad, in Canada, a fact that people only seemed to realize recently, after months of him generating White House buzz among the Tea Party faithful. Mon Dieu! To quote an old Cheech and Chong routine: “You are Canadien, not you are?”

I love this. A charismatic conservative firebrand, the answer to the presidential dreams of Tea Partiers (and presumably Birthers), has the exact background that Birthers claim disqualifies the current, much despised Commander in Chief.

The good news (for Cruz) is that it seems most experts who don’t live in the fantasy world of Birtherism agree that being born in Calgary doesn’t make Cruz any less presidential material.

That would also be good news for my children, born American on the foreign soil of Finland, if they ever aspired to run for the highest office in the land, as long as they fulfill another constitutional requirement of living in the States for at least 14 years. In any case, becoming POTUS is nothing I would wish on any of my loved ones.

The bad news (for Birthers) is that the eligibility of foreign-born Cruz leaves them with a dilemma.

They have to either drop him faster than a disgraced Rick Perry or Herman Cain, or be forced to admit that they were wrong. They would have to face the fact that the singular "issue" that has outraged them over the past five years, the issue that they have worked themselves into a tizzy over, harped on, protested against, flooded the Internet with ALL CAP diatribes about, and even took Donald Trump seriously over, was, in fact, from the very beginning simply bogus.

Or they could bend logic and decide, as a supporter quoted on TV did, that “Canada’s not really foreign soil”. Either way, I am enjoying the irony of it all. 


  1. "Following the Birther business, I cannot stand the sight of the man."

    To be fair, he was an asshole long before that. You only had to hear him utter a sentence.

    There's of course the sad, sad irony of Obama essentially being a smarter* Bush with a better tan and many liberals supporting him.
    *) Except WRT negotiations with his political opposition.

  2. That's true enough about Trump -- being an outrageous blowhard has always been his shtick, or just his personality defect. And it is ironic that, while so many on the right see Obama as a socialist boogie man, he can look positively Republican to those on the left.