Although I suspect I am adding a microscopic amount to the credibility of the birthers by writing more about them, I find the subject rather interesting.
While it is generally reasonable to be skeptical, there are reasonable and unreasonable degrees of skepticism-at least when it comes to practical life.
From an academic standpoint, it is simplicity itself to get a skeptical argument going for anything. After all, no empirical evidence can provide certainty-for the reasons argued for by folks like Plato, Descartes and the various philosophical skeptics. The senses can deceive, evidence can be faked or changed, people can lie and so on. Then, throw in the dream problem (all this could be a dream) or even toss in Descartes’ evil demon and then nothing at all is certain (except perhaps, my own existence).
But, as Locke argues in his discussion of skepticism, it is not really that critical that we cannot achieve certainty. What matters is that we can achieve a degree of confidence appropriate for the belief. So, I’ll take a look at the birther view and see what this entails.
The birther view seems, at is base, to be that there is something dubious about the claim Obama is a natural born citizen. While any document can be called into question and witnesses taken as mistaken or lying, consider the fact that the Republican leadership accepts that Obama is a natural born citizen.
During the highly contested 2008 Presidental race, the candidates did their best against each other and had armies of folks at their disposal. If Obama is not a natural born citizen, then it must be explained why this was not used against him by the McCain camp. Imagine, if you will, what would have happened if just before the election McCain’s people proved that Obama was not eligible to be President. While Biden could keep running, a new Presidential candidate would be needed at the last second and he (or she) would be stepping in after a mortal wound. While the Democrats might have been able to still win without Obama, it would have been an amazing political feat.
So, it must be assumed that either McCain and the other top Republicans accept that Obama is a natural citizen or that there is something else at play here. Should we think that McCain and the others are in on a conspiracy with Obama? Should we think that they found out too late and are remaining silent because they do not want Biden to be President? Or maybe McCain is also not a natural born US citizen and he made a deal with his fellow foreigner, Obama, in order to run for President.
Now, if one can swallow that sort of stuff, it would be easy to swallow claims such as the ones casting doubts on the certification of live birth. Hawaii issues certifications of live birth rather than birth certificates. But, this is a matter of name and not a meaningful difference. To use an analogy, suppose that some states issued a License to Drive and other states issued a Driver’s License. Suppose that Obama had a License to Drive and then folks started saying things like “well, he doesn’t have a Driver’s License, so he cannot legally drive a car!” That would, of course, be absurd.
Because the Birther movement seems rather absurd, I have wondered if it is a clever research project to see what people will believe based on what amounts to no meaningful evidence. It would be interesting if someone is working away on his/her dissertation on how people will believe claims in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, simply because of internet rumors and skeptical arguments.