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‘Birthers’ can’t accept the results of the 2008 election and this is a very bad sign because there are so many of them.

Those who question whether President Obama was born in the United States are in reality denying the legitimacy of the 2008 presidential election.  This is an indication that trust is breaking down which eventually must threaten our democratic institutions. People need to trust that if the other side wins things will be ok.  This is the foundation of democracy as a concept.

As disturbing as the ‘birthers’ are the really bad news is that this is now a trend that goes back three presidents.  President Bush was continually accused of stealing the two elections that he won.  President Clinton was the ‘minority’ president in that he never got 50% of the vote.  Both had their legitimacy questioned as a result

Before Clinton it never came up.  President Carter was very unpopular but no one questioned if he was president.

Q:  What changed? 


A:  The cold war ended.  The thousands of  soviet nuclear missiles pointed at us acted like glue, bonding us together.  Once the threat was gone criticizing the president was no longer un-patriotic. 

A look back on the history of the United States does confirm that we do best when we have an external enemy.  The unity required to sign the constitution came from the Native Americans.  The civil war was only possible once the threat receded.  For a while it looked like Islamic Terrorists could replace the Communists, but they too were defeated and no longer pose a sufficient threat.

Those who oppose the ‘birthers’ offer birth certificates and witnesses as though there is a rational end to an argument about identity. Many of the ‘birthers’ likely believe that President Obama was born in Hawaii, they just want to let the liberals know that they are dissatisfied.  Often we do ourselves a disservice when we look at identity issues like this from the perspective of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, when a better analogy would be Thanksgiving Dinner where the grown siblings are fighting.  The siblings complain about each other over dinner but the complaints themselves are not what they are angry about.  The complaints are selected for effectiveness.

So what do you do when your sister complains about your Thanksgiving behavior?  If the goal is to heal the wound then step number one is to figure out what she is really angry about.  

In the case of the ‘Tea Party’ they are angry about several decades of being called racists.  They take it as meaning that their whole life was a waste.  When racism is exposed the offender is fired, expelled or in some other way cast away because it is their character that is bad.  Now there is an identity!  If the identity is associated with parents that have passed away then there is no way to atone for the sin.

The shattered lens says that being a racist is ok but racist acts must be punished where the punishment fits the crime.  Democracy means never trying to look into the other people’s hearts because only further division results.  The long-term solution is to compel people to stop referring to their fellow citizens as racist.  For now the anti-birther argument should be that when Senator Obama took the oath of office he became our undoubted president. If large portions of our electorate are unable to accept election results then our democracy is doomed.  We promise to respond in kind when a Republican is president and we did not live up to this standard under President Bush.