Thursday, May 23, 2024

To their credit, the editors of the conservative National Review have written and syndicated an essay attempting to end the “birther” controversy. This is the theory Barack Obama can’t be president because he isn’t a “natural-born” U.S. citizen as required by law. The National Review presents evidence to the contrary, ridicules true believers and notes that the accusation isn’t even unique to the current president.

It’s such a reasonable piece of work that my heart nearly surges with pride to read it.

But the Review editors aren’t quite able to make it through their 1,000 words without a bit of right-wing loopiness.

“We are used to seeing conspiracy theories from the Left,” they say — a bit of revisionism that seems to forget the hyperventilations of the Right during the Clinton presidency. Remember how the Clintons murdered Vince Foster or had Ron Brown killed? Remember how Bill Clinton was a Red, anointed to be president by the Communist Party way back in the 1960s? How about the somewhat contradictory claims he failed to pursue terrorists who struck during his terms but launched military actions against them to distract from his legal troubles? Or the belief Bill Clinton was involved in drug trafficking and the Oklahoma City bombing?

(I don’t think the level of accusation was as high for Clinton’s predecessor, George H.W. Bush, beyond the usual Trilaterial Commission and Skull and Bones stuff. Most of the ire seemed low-key stuff based on class and actual politics — as though being one-time head of the C.I.A. inoculated him because clandestine weirdness was his official role — whereas the attacks against the Clintons swung way into the red on the froth-o-meter. The funny thing about conspiracy theories about Ronald Reagan is that they turned out to be true: Iran-Contra, for instance, or supply-side economics being, in the words of aide Michael Deaver, “just a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate” of taxation. Reagan did name names during the McCarthy era! He did propose policy based on his experiences in fictional Hollywood films! The right-wing governments he supported and armed in Central America — and Iraq! — did kill thousands of innocents, which is why he could only help them through subversion of the Constitution! And so on.)

The funniest and saddest part of the Review’s essay comes as the editors chide the Left for its top conspiracy theory topic: “Most notable,” the editors say, “the Iraq War summoned the craziness in a big way, and there are those who still shudder over their espressos at the mention of the Carlyle Group.”

The Iraq war was sold as a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with the administration saying Saddam Hussein was linked to al-Qaida (not true). It cited such evidence as a meeting between a 9/11 hijacker and an Iraqi diplomat (never happened). It warned we had to stage a preemptive attack because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (it didn’t). It noted how U.N. weapons inspectors were being thwarted by the Iraqi government (they had total access). It denied the war had been desired even before 9/11 (it was). It said steps had been taken to avoid war (they were shams to disguise it was going to happen no matter what). It lied to create heroes (Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman). It said privatizing the war would be more efficient (private vendors such as Halliburton committed billions in waste and fraud).

Considering how many conspiracy theories about the war turned out to be true, which are the ones that have been shown to be definitively false?