The Sciences

Are Birthers "Crazy"?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJan 24, 2011 2:35 PM

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This via the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and bravo to Eric Cantor:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he doesn't think questions about President Obama's citizenship should play a role in the discussion of policy matters. Two years into the Obama administration, so-called birthers continue to argue that Obama isn't a natural-born citizen and that he hasn't proved he's constitutionally qualified to be president. Birth records in Hawaii haven't dissuaded them. Cantor, interviewed Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," said he believes Obama is a citizen and that most Americans are beyond that question. "I don't think it's an issue that we need to address at all. It is not an issue that even needs to be on the policymaking table right now whatsoever," he said. Cantor refused to call people who question Obama's citizenship "crazy." "I don't think it's nice to call anyone crazy," he said.

This last point is interesting--are they "crazy", or are they self-deluded, self-deceived, as we all are some of the time about matters in our own lives, or matters that contradict our beliefs? I'm growing increasingly convinced that outside of true mental illness, people believing weird things--or even being in denial about certain facts--is not craziness or insanity. Rather, it's very normal, even if often lamentable. It's human nature to convince yourself of things that humor your prior beliefs. In this case, the prior belief is a certain strain of Obama hatred, but it could be pretty much anything. And that's why Cantor's stand is important--because as Brendan Nyhan explained on Point of Inquiry, the more we see a uniform rejection of birther claims across the punditariat and political world, and especially on the Republican side, the more they will become simply untenable. At that point, many birthers will still cling to their beliefs--but their wrongheaded view, much like the view that cigarettes don't cause lung cancer, will no longer trouble serious discourse.

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