On Thursday, January 6, 2011, NBC Evening News anchor, Brian Williams, interviewed Representative John Boehner (R-OH), U.S. House of Representatives. It was Boehner’s first interview with the media since he took office as the new Speaker of the House. One of the topics discussed during the interview concerned “Birthers.”
“Birthers” believe Barrack Obama was not born in the United States. Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, they still make the absurd assertion that Obama is not a U.S. citizen and, therefore, is ineligible to be President of the United States. This issue became so contentious during the 2008 Presidential Election that lawsuits were filed in Federal Court. Ultimately, the Court ruled that these lawsuits were frivolous and lacked any substantial evidence.
Despite court rulings dismissing their claim, “Birther” supporters continued to spread this lie. In 2009, another attempt was made to refute this falsehood and shed light on the truth regarding this matter. Medical officials in Hawaii released a copy of Barrack Obama’s original birth certificate which clearly showed the president’s full name, date of birth, and place of birth along with his parents’ names and ethnicity. Again, such overwhelming evidence did not dissuade the “Birthers”. Surprisingly, twelve members currently serving in the U.S. House of Representatives reportedly support the “Birther” position. They have allegedly proposed legislation to look into the matter which lends tacit legitimacy to this blatant falsehood.
Prior to NBC’s interview with Boehner, a woman disrupted a congressman’s reading of the U.S. Constitution as the 112th Congress convened earlier that day. As Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) recited the phrase “no person, except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States is eligible for the presidency,” a woman shouted from the gallery “Except Obama! Except Obama!” Boehner slammed his gavel in response to the disruption, attempting to restore order. Capitol police arrested the woman and removed her from the House Chambers. Obviously, this woman embraced “Birther” beliefs.
NBC’s Brian Williams referenced the incident during the interview and asked Boehner what he thought about those who assert that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.
“The state of Hawaii has said that President Obama was born there. That's good enough for me,” Boehner responded.
I was initially pleased at Boehner’s response. My satisfaction, however, was short-lived.
Williams then asked Boehner “what he would say to members of his party who have expressed doubts about Obama’s citizenry?” Boehner replied, “Brian, when you come to the Congress of the United States, there are 435 of us. We're nothing more than a slice of America. People come, regardless of party labels, they come with all kinds of beliefs and ideas. It's the melting pot of America. It's not up to me to tell them what to think [emphasis added].”
To the contrary, it is the collective responsibility of every intelligent, rational American to refute falsehoods - particularly as they relate to protecting the nation’s integrity, preserving our history and facilitating constructive political discourse across party lines. Supporting extremist belief systems such as the “Birthers” has many detrimental side effects, including causing confusion to those less-informed; encouraging mistrust of government; and inadvertently increasing hostility toward government officials and institutions.
Preserving truth is necessary for any democratic society. It is especially important for our nation’s leaders (both government and corporate) to stand up for truth and moral principles - especially when faced with adversity or encouraged to remain silent. Our American values should neither passively support nor ignore those who perpetuate lies or cover up “truth.” Truth is essential to instilling public trust. It builds faith in government and is necessary to the preservation of our nation’s history. It is vital to protecting personal, organizational and, ultimately, our nation’s integrity. Standing up for truth builds our country’s character and sustains America’s reputation in an often confusing and dangerous world.
For these reasons, I would encourage Representative Boehner and others to rethink their position when choosing to remain silent while others continue to encourage “Birther” beliefs, or further any other extremist ideology. When it comes to refuting radical belief systems, our nation’s leaders need to set aside their political agendas, personal inhibitions, and partisanship. They need to unite and speak - as one body and in one voice – to dismiss extremist beliefs, conspiracy theories and hateful speech.