Rick Perry was recently interviewed by Parade and he was asked whether or not he believed Obama was born here or not. The exchange is as follows:
Q. Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
A. I have no reason to think otherwise.
Q. That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he”—
A. Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.
Q. But you’ve seen his.
A. I don’t know. Have I?
Q. You don’t believe what’s been released?
A. I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.
A. That came up.
Q. And he said?
A. He doesn’t think it’s real.
Q. And you said?
A. I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the president of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.
Not surprisingly pundits and media folks have taken this as evidence that Perry is a born again birther. Karl Rove has taken the matter rather seriously and was extremely critical of Perry, noting that this sort of thing makes him an associate of certain nutty folks.
On the face of it, Perry did seem to be taking a somewhat coy birther position. While he did not assert outright that he believes that Obama was not born here, he clearly seemed to be indicating that he had doubts about the authenticity of the birth certificate. Also, by bringing in Trump and his (alleged) doubt, he also seemed to be moving himself into the birther sphere.
However, immediately after stating that he has no idea whether the birth certificate is real or not, he said that it does not matter and that “it’s a distractive issue.” This seems to be something of a rejection, albeit a very weak one, of the birther view (after all, they regarded it as rather important).
I agree with Perry’s second claim-bringing up the birth certificate is a distraction. In fact, it is more than that-it has the potential to make Perry seem a bit ridiculous given that the birther movement seems to have largely faded away in the face of overwhelming evidence. It also seems like a bad idea to try to play this card-if only from a practical perspective. After all, any gain he might make among the remaining birthers would probably be greatly offset by a losing ground with other folks.
In regards to his first claim about it not mattering, he seems to be right and also wrong (in different ways, of course). He is right that the birther thing does not matter anymore (except perhaps, as something that will damage his chances of getting the nomination).
However, if he actually has no idea whether the the birth certificate is real or not, then this does matter. First, if he has reasonable grounds on which to doubt its authenticity then this entails that he has reasonable grounds to believe that Obama is not legally president and that Obama has been perpetuating a great fraud (and with the support of people like Rove). If this is the case, then this does matter a great deal. Second, if he has no grounds for not having any idea and is simply refusing to accept the overwhelming evidence that Obama was born here, then this indicates that Perry has some rather significant flaws in his rationality and his epistemic capabilities. This, as one would imagine, would matter a great deal. After all, he is running for president and we certainly do not want to elect someone who cannot properly assess overwhelming evidence.
Interestingly enough, Perry seems to have decided to keep flirting with the birther thing and intends to keep it alive to “poke” at Obama. This leads me to infer that Perry is lacking in certain mental faculties, that there is some sort of pranking going on, or that Perry is destroying his campaign as part of the political theater leading up to Romney being handed the nomination. Or something else. In any case, I would suspect that Perry’s chances of getting the nomination are very low indeed.