Birth of a Notion

Like 9/11 “Truthers” a few years ago, Obama “Birthers” suddenly seem to be everywhere, spreading a bizarre gospel of alien invasion at the highest levels of government.

Their curious belief system is a dog’s breakfast of dueling bureaucratic paperwork types (one kind of birth certificate makes you good to go, the other just won’t do at all), misinterpretations of mistranslations of excerpts of interviews with grandmothers who aren’t actual grandmothers, citations of foreign law from as far back as the 1750s, and whatever else they can dig up — or make up — to convince themselves and those around them that Barack Obama is certainly ineligible to serve as President of the United States, probably an illegal immigrant, and maybe even a Communist plant from birth.

All of which is almost certainly nonsense, of course, but it’s part of a promising trend.

Over the course of the last ten years or so, the American political establishment has begun to break back down into its component parts, and each of those parts has dragged its larger constituencies ever closer to the outside edge of the de facto consensus that makes politics possible.

The state of detente between the two major political parties, built over the course of more than a century of collusion to exclude alternatives, has been in a process of collapse since at least 2000: The Florida electoral dispute, the nature of and response to 9/11, the war on Iraq, alleged voting irregularities in Ohio in 2004, dueling narratives of vote fraud (Diebold, ACORN) through 2008, and now the “Birther” allegations, you name it … the two wings of the uniparty have long since abandoned issues, policy, etc. as focal points and are now focused almost entirely on issues of each others’ “legitimacy.”

To question the legitimacy of the governors is to question the legitimacy of the government — and to question the legitimacy of the government is to invite reconsideration of the legitimacy of government itself.

Our would-be rulers are playing around with fire, oblivious to the risk they run of getting burnt. “Al Gore won that election” and “Barack Obama isn’t eligible to serve as POTUS” and “maybe 9/11 was an inside job” aren’t indicators of revolutionary consciousness, nor are they memes which have a firm grip on especially large segments of the populace, but they’re the equivalent of dry kindling. If the same two sticks keep rubbing against each other in the same way above these kinds of ideas, sooner or later there’s going to be a spark, and then a fire … and who knows how far that fire might spread or how hot it might burn?

As an anarchist, I consider it my task to entertain these feuds over “legitimacy” with an eye toward constantly expanding the question beyond the instant issue.

When the question of Obama’s eligibility is raised, my counter-questions are simple:

Under what possible circumstances could his actions possess “legitimacy?”

If he was born in Honolulu as he claims, does this in some way legitimize the powers he exercises?

Do the circumstances of his birth legitimize or delegitimize the claims he makes on your wealth and income?

When he issues an order which results in the deaths of innocents at home or abroad, should those innocents care where he first drew breath?

Is there some place he could have been born, or some ancestral trait he could display, which would magically make him good enough to rule others without their consent?

These are the questions which need to be asked. And answered.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory