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Will birther nonsense stop now?

By John P. Avlon, CNN Contributor
  • President Obama released his long-form birth certificate
  • John Avlon says it probably won't stop birthers from raising spurious questions
  • He says birther claims have been a pathetic waste of time
  • Avlon: Obama is right to say we have real problems to deal with

Editor's note: John P. Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for The Daily Beast. He is the author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America."

New York (CNN) -- In response to the increased heat of conspiracy entrepreneurs selling books and seeding presidential campaigns with "birther" theories, President Obama released his long-form birth certificate Wednesday.

In the White House briefing room, he spoke frankly about how he'd been puzzled and initially "bemused" about the persistence of the rumors that he was not born in the United States even after his 2008 campaign released his certificate of live birth.

The birther theories have been thoroughly debunked before, but Donald Trump recently reignited the debate by basing his presidential flirtation largely on the birther claims and received a significant short-term bump in the polls as a result. This was a sign of the fringe blurring with the base, evidence of the political potential for playing to the lowest common denominator at a time when 51% of Republican primary voters doubt whether the president was born in the United States.

So, will this finally stop the conspiracy theorists?

Sadly, no. As Jonathan Swift once said, you cannot reason someone out of something they were not reasoned into.

But this long-form birth-certificate release will increase the ranks and volume of responsible Republicans who have realized that they have created a monster by encouraging "Obama Derangement Syndrome" for political gain. There are, after all, plenty of compelling rational reasons to oppose the president's re-election.

Already, there are those whose only response to this release is to suspiciously ask why the long-form birth certificate was not released sooner. Others are questioning whether the document is real, with Drudge Report linking to a story pointing out that the doctor who presided over the birth died in 2003, presumably making 100% verification permanently in doubt. And there were folks who resisted previous evidence, like the two concurrent birth announcements for Barack Obama in Honolulu papers.

Like the Bush Derangement Syndrome that proliferated on the far-left during the last administration -- the 9/11 truthers were the birthers of the Bush era -- Obama Derangement Syndrome is a hydra-headed monster of conspiracy theories. Some will now switch to related variations, questioning the president's religion or, as Trump has started to do, his school records. Conspiracy theories always parade as scientific theory, pushed by people claiming to have special knowledge of some monstrous fraud. But in the end, it is fright-wing politics peddled to the gullible, troubled and hyper-partisan.

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The birther theories have always been demonstrably false. In my research for the book "Wingnuts," I found the birther patient zero: She was an amateur opposition researcher and Hillary Clinton delegate from Texas known as Linda Starr.

She first notoriety in the late 1990s, digging up stories about the hypocrisy of Republicans like Dan Burton and Bob Livingston during the Clinton impeachment hearings. She later surfaced as a source in the reporting on the discredited Bush Air National Guard story that brought down Dan Rather's long and otherwise distinguished career at CBS.

In 2008, she was offended by what she later told me was "the daily misogynistic hate speech against Hillary" during the primaries. She volunteered for the Clinton campaign during the hotly contested Lone Star State primary and served as a Clinton delegate at the state convention. After Clinton's concession, Starr turned her attention to Obama.

"I determined that I was going to start digging up every bit of dirt that I could find on him," she told me after I hunted her down in late '09, "and that hopefully that I would find something against him that would convince the Democratic Party to dump him and make Hillary the nominee."

She worked to provide unspecified "research" allegedly about Obama's birth to a Philadelphia lawyer who had filed at a 9/11 truther law suit against President Bush, alleging that the government allowed the terrorist attacks to happen and that the World Trade Center was destroyed from within.

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This new conspiracy theory was picked up by unhinged partisans on the right and proliferated courtesy of the Internet. It was pumped up by conspiracy entrepreneurs selling bumper stickers and books and promoted via talk radio, riffing off the offensive idea that the president of the United States is somehow "un-American."

And so began a pathetic waste of time that distorted our political debates and sowed the seeds of distrust between fellow citizens. It was never anything more than a dark fantasy about reversing election results pushed by people invested in polarization for political and personal profit.

Obama was correct to call out the outsized influence that conspiracy theorists and carnival barker-style have achieved in our politics.

"I know that there's going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest," he said. "But I'm speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We've got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do. We've got big problems to solve. And I'm confident we can solve them, but we're going to have to focus on them -- not on this."

He's right.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John P. Avlon.

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