Politico's Ben Smith notes something I've brought up several times in this space and had the opportunity to discuss once on MSNBC. People have made much of the surprising share of Republicans who will tell pollsters they buy into the fantasy that President Obama is really a foreigner in the Oval Office (a logical consequence of birther-ism).
But just a few years ago, you could get an equally, surprisingly large number of Democrats to tell pollsters they believed that George W. Bush either allowed 9-11 to happen, despite having foreknowledge, or else actually conspired to make it happen. Smith has crosstabs from a 2006 poll that show more than half of Democratic voters were supposedly truthers. (I think that pollsters overcount both birthers and truthers for the very reason Smith hints at:
I'm still not sure this represents actual belief, as opposed to a kind of trash talk about a president you hate.
I think this drives much of today's birtherism, too. But one of the first commenters to Smith's post offers this up:
Ben, find me ONE candidate even on the fringe of the Democratic party who was running on the believe that Bush was "in on it".... ONE.
One? There's more than one. I believe there were quite a few Democrats at the state and local levels who embraced the idea wholeheartedly, and and at least two towns that I remember in New England passed "truther" resolutions. But among federal candidates, that's easy: Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., for starters. She actually accused Bush's father of causing 9-11.
There were several others who merely flirted with trutherism in order to harness the goodwill of the ignorant masses on the Left. Take, for example, our current Secretary of State, who appeared on the Senate floor on May 16, 2002, holding up a New York Post headline that misleadingly suggested President Bush knew about 9-11 in advance. Senator Clinton also gave a speech playing up this headline and suggesting that there might actually be something to the idea:
"The president knew what?....My constituents would like to know the answer to that and many other questions, not to blame the president or any other American, just to know."
I don't believe for one second that Hillary is actually a truther. Her speech is the equivalent of, "Well, I believe the president was born in Hawaii, but I don't see why he doesn't end all doubt by showing us his birth certificate. If he has nothing to hide, then he should just release it."
What's even more hysterical about Smith's post is the number of left-wing commenters who make his point for him by defending truther-ism.
Are truthers and birthers equivalent? Yes, in most senses, but no in one other. Birtherism is a misguided theory about Obama which, even if true, does not allege that he is partially or wholly responsible for the murder of thousands of Americans. In fact, if the birthers were correct, it wouldn't even be Obama's fault. That's why the truthers are, in fact, far more unhinged than the birthers.