The Republican Party is being held hostage by its paranoid rightwing fringe — its fact-averse, conspiracy-mongering lunatics. Why else would GOP leaders such as John Boehner refuse to just disavow the crazy insistence that President Obama is not a citizen of this country? Boehner knows better, of course. But he’s afraid to challenge the birthers in the GOP base.
UPDATE: It’s no wonder they are afraid to challenge this craziness. A new poll shows that a majority of Republican voters are birthers: A 51% majority of national GOP primary voters erroneously think President Obama was not born in the U.S. 28% know that he was.
Slate’s Dave Wiegel commented on the phenomenon:
Another way of putting this is slightly more than one in four Republicans believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Does that mean that 72 percent of Republicans think Obama should be disqualified from the presidency? No. It suggests that birtherism has become another screen for extreme partisanship. . .
This doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Palin and Gingrich, more than other Republicans, have criticized Obama for policies they trace back to a lack of faith in America and its institutions. (It was Gingrich, remember, who promoted Dinesh D’Souza’s silly “Obama as Kenyan anti-colonialist” theory.) Birtherism, in this instance, is a logical response to the stimuli of 1) conservative opinion leaders saying that Obama’s policies amount to un-American socialism and 2) Republican leaders punting when asked whether Obama was born in the United States.
The most recent to punt was Boehner. Sunday, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he had an opportunity to simply state the fact that President Obama was born in Hawaii, the 50th state. (See the video below.) But he couldn’t bring himself to do so. As Think Progress notes,
Three separate times, Boehner told Gregory that “it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think”:
GREGORY: Do you not think it’s your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?
BOEHNER: David, it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.
GREGORY: But isn’t that a little bit fast and loose? I mean, you are the leader in Congress and you are not standing up to obvious facts and saying these are facts, and if you don’t believe that it’s nonsense?
BOEHNER: I just outlined the facts as I understand them. I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian, I’ll take him at his word.
GREGORY: But that kind of ignorance over whether he’s a Muslim doesn’t concern you?
BOEHNER: Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can’t — it’s not my job to tell them.
Boehner, of course, tells Americans what to think all the time: He tells them that the health care law is a “job killer;” he tells them that tax cuts will create jobs; he tells them that the stimulus package didn’t help the economy. But when it comes to a matter of standing up to a bunch of crazies with a simple fact, he can’t bring himself to do so.