Anatomy of the “both sides do it” strategy

Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com

Birther Pie Chart

At long last, it appears that the Birther conspiracy is enough of an embarrassment to the GOP that they are not only dropping what seemed to be an official position of tacit tolerance, if not encouragement of it. Republicans are now actively distancing themselves from it and the way you can tell for certain they are is they have shifted into full “Democrats do it too!” mode. More specifically, they are accusing one Democrat – none other than Hillary Clinton herself! – of manufacturing the whole thing. I first noticed it on MSNBC’s UP with Steve Kornacki this past weekend, when GOP flack Amy Holmes was quick to raise the accusation when the conversation on the panel turned to the Birther topic. I thought her response was interesting, to say the least, and it turns out that Republicans, including none other than GOP primary front-runner Donald Trump(!), have been pushing this line hard lately, as Dave Weigel explains in the Washington Post.

And more and more conservatives have settled on the Trump line — that the questions about Obama’s citizenship were so slimy that they obviously came from the Clinton camp. “The whole birther thing was started by the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008 against Barack Obama,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) confidently told Yahoo News this summer.

The problem: This is simply not true. Clinton’s campaign, one of the most thoroughly dissected in modern history, never raised questions about the future president’s citizenship. The idea that it did is based largely on a series of disconnected actions by supporters of Clinton, mostly in the months between Obama’s reaction to the Jeremiah Wright story and the Democratic National Convention. I know, because I spent/wasted quite a lot of time covering this stuff.

My 2008 recollections of this are hazy, but I recall that there was a rumor that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and smuggled into the United States by his wily radical parents, and that it had been circulated by Hillary Clinton supporters. Despite my being an Obama supporter at the time, it wasn’t something that was of top-of-mind importance to me by any stretch (being as blatantly stupid as it was) and I’m fairly certain I chalked it up as coming from the disgruntled PUMA fringe. It would simply make no sense for the Clinton campaign to make themselves look so pathetically desperate by putting something out there that could easily backfire on them.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose it was the work of the Clinton campaign. Scratch that, let’s propose that Hillary concocted the entire goofy claim herself, and laughed maniacally as she sent the anonymous emails that were going to bring Barack DOWN! So what? What excuse do Republicans have for running with it the way they did from 2009 on? Did Hillary Clinton force then-Arizona Rep. Sam Crump to tweet that President Obama was born in Kenya? Nope. Was the entire GOP caucus in the AZ Lege taking its cues from then-Secretary of State to the Obama administration Hillary Clinton when they passed an embarrassing “Birther Bill” in 2011? Doubtful.

Did Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (no friend of Hillary’s that I’m aware of) team up with the number one Birther in the nation at the time, Donald Trump, to launch a ridiculous “investigation” of the President’s birth certificate because Secretary Clinton was whispering encouragement to do so in their ears? Hardly. Hell, even Mitt Romney couldn’t resist taking a shot at the alleged circumstances of Barack Obama’s birth at a campaign stop in 2012.

So while it is true that the Birther crap originated with people who were at least nominal supporters of Hillary Clinton (and no one is denying that), it is equally true that there has never been a shred of evidence connecting her campaign to it, and it is further true that Republicans have been the ones pushing it the past six years at a level of magnitude roughly consistent with the pie chart I created atop this post. There is simply no way Democrats could be responsible for the impressive feat of convincing a majority of GOP primary voters that President Obama was not an American citizen by early 2011. No, that was a Republican accomplishment.

But “both-sides-are-to-blame”-ism is an insidious force in polite political discourse and right wingers have proven highly adept at harnessing it to dodge blame and neutralize harm to themselves. As Republicans continue to repeat “Hillary done it!”, as sure as you’re alive dimwitted mainstream pundits will follow suit, until it becomes conventional wisdom that “both sides” were equally to blame for Birtherism.

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