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Opinion: We have met the birthers, and the birthers are us

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In releasing what is arguably the most boring document ever to figure in a national controversy, President Barack ‘I am not a foreigner!’ Obama said that his target audience wasn’t die-hard birthers but the majority of Americans. The assumption is that producing his ‘real’ birth certificate will peel off the moderate middle from the lunatic fringe. Alas, the polls suggest otherwise.

A CBS/New York Times poll released earlier this month found that a quarter of respondents said they think President Obama was not born in the United States. For Republicans and ‘tea party’ supporters, the figure was 45%. How many of these everyday birthers will take yes for an answer? Even if those numbers were halved, the birther population would be significant.

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Reducing the number of skeptics will take more than waving a birth certificate. Political leaders -- especially Republicans -- need to dissociate themselves from the birthers in plain language and encourage their followers to do likewise. They should reject the minimalist model of House Speaker John Boehner, who in Februrary said he took the president at his word that he was a Christian and American -- as if there weren’t documentary evidence of the president’s birth in Hawaii.

Even if Republicans forcefully join Obama in rebutting this political urban legend, some Americans will remain unconvinced -- more, probably, than Obama imagines.

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President Obama closes one ‘birther’ chapter. Will another open?

-- Michael McGough

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