In the drab guise of the "long-form" birth certificate signed and filed in Hawaii on Aug. 8, 1961, Americans were offered proof Wednesday that their president is a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office. But will the White House's release of the certificate finish off the "birther" movement? Certainly not.
Harold Camping, president of Family Stations ministry, has been preaching for some time to a vast and devoted national audience that God's plan is to inaugurate the Second Coming and end the world by flooding on May 21, 2011 (thus trumping the end of the Mayan calendar: Dec. 21, 2012).
Camping will be saying on May 22 that his math was merely a year or two off, and the end is still nigh. His congregation will have its faith fortified. Membership will probably increase as it did after the failure of Camping's last prediction of the Second Coming, which he scheduled for Sept. 6, 1994.
At the very hour of its destruction by external evidence, sociologists refer to the phenomenon of increased devotion to a batty theory as "cognitive dissonance."
Obama released the long-demanded certificate at a press conference where he declined questions, but he said the birther movement was becoming a distraction from serious political issues, fanned by "carnival barkers" -- by which he presumably meant Donald Trump, who has been campaigning for the presidency on the issue.
The words were hardly out of Obama's mouth and the document hardly lofted onto the White House website before leading birthers were expressing skepticism about the document. They were also insisting that it was a "side issue" and distraction from the serious matter of Obama's qualifications as a "natural born citizen" as opposed to an ineligible third-world foundling from Kenya or Indonesia, as around 25 percent of all Americans and 50 percent of all Republicans have come to believe.
Trump immediately claimed victory and vindication as the man who had forced the birthers' cause into the headlights.
Cognitive dissonance has become standard equipment for political scientists and reporters across America. On a daily basis, they advance the premise that the Republican Party is guided by cunning and sophisticated manipulators of pubic opinion. They simultaneously report that the stated aim of these manipulators is to destroy two of the most popular and effective government programs: Medicare and Social Security. Medicare is essentially socialized medicine for the elderly, while Social Security keeps millions from homelessness and starvation in their sunset years.
Yet for months now, the national press has been lauding Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as a principled and effective Republican crusader for budgetary discipline. Ryan wants to end Medicare by handing it over to management by the "private sector," with similar brutal attacks on Social Security.
The bloc most likely to vote in any election are the older crowd with Medicare health insurance cards in their wallets and Social Security checks, which they receive on the second Wednesday of every month. So, it's a no-brainer to say that the Republicans today are politically insane, just as George Bush was in 2005 when he proclaimed that "reforming" Social Security was to be the prime cause of his second term.
Three months later, battered by furious protests by the elderly -- plus those younger folk with ambitions to slide into their 70s on a diet better than church shelter soup and a roof more durable than cardboard -- Bush dropped the issue of Social Security reform forever.
The Republicans are politically insane because the only way to "reform" is to cut back these programs -- to swear you're doing the opposite, the tactic of Bill Clinton. But the Republicans have been lapping up the plaudits of the elite press -- The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal -- doling out measured praise for Rep. Ryan's responsible commitment to fiscal prudence.
But now Ryan and his fellow Republicans have gone back to their districts and discovered to their amazement that the voters have scant confidence in Obama's handling of the economy, but even less confidence in the Republican proposals.
In a report Wednesday headlined "House GOP Members Face Voter Anger Over Budget" -- certain to be read with deep alarm by those Republicans still endowed with powers of rational analysis -- New York Times correspondents reported bluntly that "after 10 days of trying to sell constituents on their plan to overhaul Medicare, House Republicans in multiple districts appear to be increasingly on the defensive, facing worried and angry questions from voters and a barrage of new attacks from Democrats and their allies."
In Florida, which is filled with retirees, the story continued: "a congressional town meeting erupted into near chaos on Tuesday as attendees accused a Republican lawmaker of trying to dismantle Medicare while providing tax cuts to corporations and affluent Americans. At roughly the same time in Wisconsin, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the architect of the Republican budget proposal, faced a packed town meeting, occasional boos and a skeptical audience as he tried to lay out his party's rationale for overhauling the health insurance program for retirees."
Earlier this week, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi announced that he was folding his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He said he realized he didn't really have the stomach for a prolonged and costly campaign.
Barbour is a "good old boy" Southerner that's ample in girth and prone to dropping a clanger on the race issue. He's also a pretty smart Washington insider who no doubt realized that only five months after the great Republican triumph in the midterm polls last November, the party has plummeted swiftly in public esteem, regarded as plain nutty by millions.
Obama isn't popular. Sixty-seven percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. His job "disapproval" rating stands at 49 percent. Not so good. The job "disapproval" rating for Congress, with a House newly led by Republicans, stands at 71 percent.
In order of popular esteem for their candidacies, current Republican presidential candidates are: Christian evangelical Mike Huckabee who leads this field with a 17 percent showing, circus barker Donald Trump, Mormon and failed aspirant in 2008 Mitt Romney, faded star Sarah Palin, adulterer Newt Gingrich, foe of Social Security and Medicare Ron Paul and nut ball Michele Bachmann. And there's a trio of 2 percenters: Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and Rick Santorum, of whom former Sen. Bob Kerrey once memorably said, "Santorum? Is that the Latin for asshole?"
These are not impressive candidates. It's hard to imagine any of them offering a credible challenge to as adaptable and opportunistic a candidate as Obama, who has just assigned the man once regarded as a credible Republican presidential candidate, Gen. David Petraeus, as head of the CIA. This takes Petraeus off the political chessboard, at least so far as 2012 is concerned.
The only puzzle is why Obama finally released the long certificate after years of refusing to do so. Would it not have been better to keep this nut ball issue in play?