Obama, Elvis and America’s birthers

By Bernd Debusmann
August 6, 2009

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own. –
Nobody ever landed on the moon, the televised images are a hoax. John F. Kennedy was murdered in a complex plot involving the Mafia and the CIA. Elvis Presley lives. Barack Obama was born outside the United States and therefore is ineligible to be president.

All these claims stem from conspiracy theories and myths born in the U.S. and they throw a question mark over the long-held view of experts that such ideas flourish most in societies where news is controlled, access to information difficult and barriers to independent inquiry difficult to overcome.

This kind of restrictive environment  applies to many Third World countries – conspiracy theories are particularly abundant in the Middle East and Africa — but not to the technologically and economically advanced United States. Yet there is a parallel universe inhabited by millions and millions of Americans immune to facts, logic and common sense.

Some of the myths are harmless, such as the notion that rock-and-roll king Elvis Presley did not die in 1977 and instead went into hiding. (The reasons vary depending on who tells the tale).

There have been thousands of supposed Elvis sightings and a 2005 book says there’s DNA evidence that he is still alive. While the Elvis-in-hiding theory appears to fading (though it is far from dead), the hoaxed moon landing continues to run long enough to prompt a Newsweek magazine article that debunked the story on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo mission to the moon in July. Perhaps not surprisingly, early skepticism about the moon landing came from the Flat Earth Society, based in California.

The Flat Earthers have their own website, unlike the latest addition to America’s wide variety of conspiracy cults, the “birthers.”

They insist that President Barrack Obama was born in Kenya and that the certificate attesting to his birth in Hawaii is a forgery. Unlike the Flat Earthers, the birthers managed to find Congressional sponsors, all Republicans, to introduce a bill meant to block non-eligible Americans from becoming president in future.

H.R. 1503, introduced by Florida Republican Bill Posey, wants to “To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee’s statement of organization a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate, together with such other documentation as may be necessary to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility to the Office of President under the Constitution.”


Weighty language for a weighty cause. First voiced during the presidential election campaign (when Obama opponents also aired suspicions that he is a Muslim), the birther conspiracy gained currency when a right-wing talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, expounded on it and entertained his audience with the following line: “What do Obama and God have in common? Neither has a birth certificate. How do they differ? God does not think he’s Obama. And there’s another difference between God and Obama, and that is that liberals love Obama.”

This from a man with a reputation as the loudest and perhaps most influential conservative voice in American politics. Asked a few weeks ago whom he would chose as a political leader if the choice were between Limbaugh and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Vice President Dick Cheney opted for Limbaugh.

A conservative cable TV show host, Lou Dobbs of CNN, also boosted the birth certificate tale, inviting proponents of the theory on his program and raising questions over the authenticity of the certificate Obama’s campaign team produced before the elections.

Air time for the birthers, whose natural habitat is the Internet, clearly helped spread their claims. There are no reliable statistics on the number of American Flat Earthers, Moon Walk deniers or Elvis spotters but a poll in late July showed considerable Republican support for the birthers’ assertions and their conclusion that Obama is an illegitimate president.

According to the survey, by the polling institute Research 2000, there is a huge gap between Republicans and Democrats on the issue: 93 percent of Democrats believed that Obama was born in the U.S. while only 42 percent of Republicans thought so. Of the rest, 28 percent thought he wasn’t born in the U.S. and 30 percent were not sure.

“Far from being an isolated, on the edge movement, the birthers have planted deep a paranoid conspiracy seed about Obama’s legitimate right to sit in the White House among a wide body of Americans,” lamented Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst.

The debate, he says, has bestowed a kind of perverse legitimacy on the birthers. “They won’t quietly go away.”

Probably not. Conspiracy theories come in many forms but they have one thing in common: they survive against overwhelming factual evidence.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Miss Lewinsky and now the birth certificate.Seems that republicans need to find these kind of arguments because they haven’t much to say, the debate has to be about anything but a political program.In this times of crisis, joblosses, bailouts, americans need to focuse on a birth certificate, this will help alot I’m sure.Great to know what people like Limbaugh, Cheney, Dobb or birthers think, nah really…

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

I wonder if this whole birth certificate issue has something to do with Republican guilt about supporting someone whose first four year term of his presidency was illegitimate, namely George Dubya Bush. Why was this man in the White House from 2001 to 2005, when he lost the popular vote by half a million and should have lost the electoral college vote, because (as research later proved)he lost the popular vote in Florida, the state whose electoral college votes gave him the presidency? You’ll remember he used those four years to start a war in Iraq based on lies about WMD that resulted in the death of thousands of young American soldiers and countless thousands of innocent Iraqis.I wonder if ‘birthers’ get as worked up about that man being in the White House who blatantly had no business there for the fundamental reason that he lost the election! A little more important I’d say than the silly fantasy about birth certificates, which officials of both parties (Republican and Democrat) acknowledge is a non issue.

Posted by Alec | Report as abusive

Perhaps the President was born on a boat within Hawaii’s protected waters and was taken to the hospital for recovery. The hospital could be obligated to issue his birth certificate, but regardless he is our President and with the economy in tatters we Americans must support our majority selected Leader. PERIOD

Posted by lindafranke1952 | Report as abusive

I am a registered Republican so I did not vote for Barack Obama last November. However, for those of us that didn’t invest our vote, in fatih I refer to President Obama as my “RONI” President. (Return On Non-Investment)

Posted by lindafranke1952 | Report as abusive

Some people aren’t convinced Barack Obama was born at all; rather, that he was manufactured.I mean, somebody *had* to be thinking, “How about we put a nice, apparently intelligent, reasonably eloquent guy in charge for a few years while we go on doing the very same thing we’ve been getting away with under Darth Vader and the dolt with the Goat book?”As a hypothesis, it’s unassailable.

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

Blah blah blah. If someone doesn’t like a Liberal politician they must be a crazy Republican. If someone doesn’t like a Republican politician, they must be a heathen Liberal. Either way, let’s make sure not to question authority, because Lord knows we don’t know any better, right?Anyway, I personally don’t care what country Obama was born in. I see why it is important, but we’ve got bigger problems right now. Mr. Debusmann, you are just as bad as Limbaugh, Dobbs and the rest of them. You are implying that people should not question their government; that we should all walk in a straight line and assume the guys in charge will take care of us. Just because some conspiracy theories are stupid, does not mean that they are all insane ‘myths.’ A conspiracy is two or more people planning to do something illegally or in secret. Are you saying this never occurs? Our government has openly admitted to doing illegal and/or immoral things in secret before – did they just stop? Are we more civilized than we were in the sixties?

Posted by Emma | Report as abusive

That’s nothing. You want to hear a real crazy conspiracy?Some people believe that Obama intentionally based his campaign on emotional and political spin, in order to manipulate an impressional voter base.Those same people also believe that regardless of his promises, all he will do is maintain the status quo of the last eight years.And that because Obama has formed a cult of personality, the voters will love him regardless of how ineffective he ultimately turns out to be.Crazy stuff, eh? The average American voter would never be that stupid…

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Hawaii uses two, and only two forms of authentic papers concerning someone born in Hawaii. Sorry birthers.The two are Certificate of Live Birth and Certification of Live Birth. I’ll repeat this…both are acceptable. The difference between the two is readily available, do the research if you wish. Google State of Hawaii. Go from there. There is no form called “birth certificate” in Hawaii. No one is guarding some vault somewhere, hiding a mysterious paper, saying “Barack Obama’s birth certificate”, some form that no one else in Hawaii ever got.The President’s certificate is the only documentation there is. It’s the only documentation needed. Where his mom lived, where his dad lived, where the certificate says they lived is unimportant as long as his mom, a United States citizen from Kansas, was in Hawaii at the moment of the President’s birth. She was. Endo. Fini.Right wing pundits earn their living on the backs of others. It’s a small group, hayseed in nature, and easily led around.People who cannot and will not accept a black Democrat as President are desperately grasping to a straw that leads nowhere. right wing pundits, charlatans to the core, cruelly feeds on their ignorance, their hate, and their fear of a black president. It’s their way of making a living. It’s what they do.I’m not defending the morons that buy this schlock. They are lazy beyond imagination and beneath contempt because a tiny bit of education would allow them to see the President’s documentation is adequate…indeed it’s all there is.Or….their ignorance is purposeful. It’s the last hope they have to hold on to their vision of “America the way it should be”. You can easily figure out what that means.The second possibility is more likely.

Posted by patriot911 | Report as abusive