December 8, 2008 8:37 AM
Supreme Court won't hear 'Is Obama a citizen?' case
A Hail Mary pass from folks who would like to stop Barack Obama's move from President-elect to President of the United States has been batted down by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has turned down an emergency appeal from a New Jersey man who says President-elect Barack Obama is ineligible to be president because he was a British subject at birth.
The court did not comment on its order today rejecting the call by Leo Donofrio of East Brunswick, N.J., to intervene in the presidential election.
Donofrio says that since Obama had dual nationality at birth -- his mother was American and his Kenyan father at the time was a British subject -- he cannot possibly be a "natural born citizen," one of the requirements the Constitution lists for eligibility to be president.
At least one other appeal over Obama's citizenship remains at the court.
Philip J. Berg of Lafayette Hill, Pa., argues that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii as Obama says and the Hawaii secretary of state has confirmed. Berg says Obama also may be a citizen of Indonesia, where he lived as a boy.
The stories have been a staple of conservative Web sites and radio shows - most notably locally on Peter Boyles' KHOW morning show.
Alex Koppelman of Salon write about why they probably won't go away.
Yes, Obama was born in Hawaii, and yes, he is eligible to be president. But according to several experts in conspiracy theories, and in the psychology of people who believe in conspiracy theories, there's little chance those people who think Obama is barred from the presidency will ever be convinced otherwise. "There's no amount of evidence or data that will change somebody's mind," says Michael Shermer, who is the publisher of Skeptic magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, and who holds an undergraduate and a master's degree in psychology. "The more data you present a person, the more they doubt it ... Once you're committed, especially behaviorally committed or financially committed, the more impossible it becomes to change your mind."
Any inconvenient facts are irrelevant. People who believe in a conspiracy theory "develop a selective perception, their mind refuses to accept contrary evidence," Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates who studies such theories, says. "As soon as you criticize a conspiracy theory, you become part of the conspiracy."
Evan Harrington, a social psychologist who is an associate professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, agrees. "One of the tendencies of the conspiracy notion, the whole appeal, is that a lot of the information the believer has is secret or special," Harrington says. "The real evidence is out there, [and] you can give them all this evidence, but they'll have convenient ways to discredit [it]."
Whatever can't be ignored can be twisted to fit into the narrative; every new disclosure of something that should, by rights, end the controversy only opens up new questions, identifies new plotters. Perhaps the most common argument of those questioning Obama's eligibility is that he should just release his full, original birth certificate, rather than the shorter certification, which is a copy. His failure to do so only proves there is reason to be suspicious, they say, and if the document was released, the issue would go away. But that's unlikely. It was, after all, the Obama campaign's release of the certification this summer that stoked the fever of conspiracy mongers.
Who's behind them?
Not surprisingly, almost all of the people who've been most prominent in pushing this story have a history of conspiracist thought. There's Jerome Corsi, who's best known as the co-author of the book that launched the Swift boat vets; he's a chief proponent of the claim that the government is secretly planning to form a "North American Union" with Canada and Mexico. Philip Berg, who filed the lawsuit that had until now drawn the most public attention, is a 9/11 Truther. Andy Martin, who's credited with starting the myth that Obama is a Muslim and has been intimately involved in the birth certificate mess as well, was denied admission to the Illinois bar because of a psychiatric evaluation that showed he had "moderately severe character defect manifested by well-documented ideation with a paranoid flavor and a grandiose character." He also has a long history of anti-Semitism. Robert Schulz, who's responsible for the ads in the Tribune, is a fairly notorious tax protester. In 2007, a federal judge ordered Schulz to shutter his Web site because he and his organization were, in the words of the Justice Department's Tax Division, using the site to promote "a nationwide tax-fraud scheme."