President Obama determined today at a press conference to finally release his long form birth certificate, in order to end what he termed the “sideshow”, and declaring, “We do not have time for this silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do.” Better stuff to do, indeed. Putting aside the president’s motives in withholding the certificate for over three years after his birthplace was initially questioned by the Hillary Clinton forces in the democratic primaries of 2008, the announcement clearly puts to rest for the time being the quisentential American time honored tradition of the Conspiracy Theory. The rupturing of the “birtherism” conspiracy leaves of course all the other wonderful residual conspiracy theories attached to this mystery of a man – who got Obama into Columbia and Harvard University – who really wrote Obama’s “autobiography” – what really is the religion that Obama professes as his faith – that will take us right up through the next election cycle, and will continue to deflect from what the President refers to as “better stuff”. Conspiracy theories live in the world of incomplete information, and this President, who promised to be the most open in history, has been the master of the tabula rasa.
The historical expanse of American Conspiracy Theories projects back to the founding of the republic and is driven by the assumption that successful entities achieved their success not through hard work but a vehicle not available to the “average Joe”. President Obama himself daily participates in such yarns when he implies the “rich” are not “paying their fair share” as a tribute of their “bounty”, that the oil companies are “price gauging” every time the price of gasoline reaches painful levels, or that reform of medicare will preferentially harm the “aged” and the “disabled”. The conspiracy theories with the most staying power are usually the most obtuse and bizarre, and often involve the government. Take for instance the 9/11 Truther conspiracy that claims the United States government destroyed the World Trade Center either by “allowing” it to happen or even physically directing the planes to strike pre-armed sections of the towers. This theory builds upon the historical trellis of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s supposed pre-knowledge of the Japanese Pearl Harbor Attack December 7th, 1941, again, “allowing” it to happen to draw us into war. Both scenarios draw on the inadequate intelligence information available to the Presidents Bush and Roosevelt that supposes that the destiny of the event was clear to all, but ignored for nefarious means. A different kind of government conspiracy is the public health menace in which “experts” seek to control the population, such as the US creating AIDS and releasing it from a lab, or the placement of Fluoride in water not to reduce tooth decay, but to poison people. Insidious conspiracy theories based on racialist notions have induced great harm, such as the conspiracy of Jewish world domination, or the western world’s response to 9/11 as a device to corral the world’s oil supply from Arabs or a return of the Crusades, inflaming the Arab street. Another venue is the small group knowing elites controlling the world, such as the Tri-Lateral Commission, the “New World Order”, or earlier the Masons. The list goes on, and on, and on.
We are, in short, a nation full of suspicions and rationalizations of what effects history and events, and we are not soon to be cured of this affliction. The best device for controlling the conversation and focusing the people on the hard work and challenges inherent in conquering large problems is a willingness to be open and upfront about the small distractions. The president in his dribbling out of information only enhances those who would assume an irrational explanation for their concerns about his decision making. As the president says, it is time to put away such silliness, and focus on what is the true conspiracy of this presidency, the willingness to talk about our difficult times as an adult, yet act upon potential solutions with the avoidance and disdain of a distracted child.