Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Little They Know

Before we all get too carried away about yesterday's big birther news -- almost two thirds of Republicans either believe Obama is foreign-born, or are not sure -- it seems to me there's at least one plausible explanation other than the conclusion that most Republicans are foaming-at-the-mouth bonkers.

Remember the overlap -- I don't have a link now, but it was several weeks ago -- between supposed birthers and people who nonetheless thought Obama was born in Hawaii? It seemed that at least a handful of Americans weren't quite sure that Hawaii was really one of the United States. I don't think that 40% of Republicans think that Hawaii is foreign. But I do wonder, after seeing results like these about the ever-appalling ignorance of the American people, whether a large chunk of supposed birthers may believe Obama is foreign-born but not think it's any big deal. That is, we're assuming that anyone who believes that Obama is foreign-born is buying into the idea that Democrats have perpetrated an elaborate conspiracy against the USA, involving decades of doctored documents and carefully developed lies. But I strongly suspect that a large chunk of the respondents in this poll don't know anything about that, or that there's a relevant Constitutional provision -- they just know that some guy named Barack Obama is President of the United States, and gosh that's a weird name, maybe he was born abroad?

Really -- we've all seen polls showing how few people know what's in the Bill of Rights, or other fundamental things about the American political system. It wouldn't surprise me at all if very large percentages of Americans didn't know that it would be a big deal indeed (legally, that is) if Obama was foreign born, and were entirely ignorant of the controversy (if that's the right word) about his birth. And with that in mind, I'd be especially wary of interpreting the "not sure" 22% of Republicans as birther fellow travelers, when they could just be clueless.

If anyone is thinking of another round of birther polling, I'd love to see questions that get to that distinction. Also, the ever-important Hawaii/United States distinction.

I'm just guess is that if we ever have a President Maria Garcia from Santa Fe, New Mexico, that we'll get a good 40% responding yes or not sure to a birther question even in a universe without Orly Taitz.

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