I felt a little sick yesterday reading about President Obama's decision to release his birth certificate. Strange as it may seem, the move Obama was compelled to make reminded me of the Leonard Rhinelander v. Alice Rhinelander trial. Born Alice Jones, Alice Rhinelander was a woman of mixed race, a laundress and nursemaid who married Leonard Rhinelander, a New Yorker whose occupation Wikipedia quaintly lists as "socialite." Leonard's father was a real estate magnate worth millions.
Shortly after Alice and Leonard married in 1924, newspaper stories began to appear claiming he'd married a black woman.
Apparently under pressure from his parents, Leonard soon left Alice and sought to end the marriage, claiming she'd deceived him about her race. The all-white, all-male jury couldn't decide just what she was simply by looking at her in the courtroom. To help them, Alice was obliged to disrobe (albeit in the judge's chambers) so that the jurors could inspect her.
Of course, the president hasn't been subjected quite the same kind of abasement since the 2008 campaign. Still, the harassment was grounded in America's continuing obsession with race, and a desire by conservatives to humiliate Obama. For members of the lunatic fringe right wing, it was never about the birth certificate. The real goal of these despicable people was delegitimizing the Obama presidency.
As the New York Times notes today, "[T]he birther question . . . was simply a proxy for those who never accepted the president’s legitimacy, for a toxic mix of reasons involving ideology, deep political anger and, most insidious of all, race. . . . It is inconceivable that this campaign to portray Mr. Obama as the insidious 'other' would have been conducted against a white president."
But here's what's truly mindboggling: Even though the president's released his birth certificate, the crazies on the right aren't going way. Some people--among them the irrepressible Donald Trump--are calling for an investigation into its authenticity.
A recent poll found that 45 percent of Republicans believe Obama was born outside the United States. Which leads me to wonder whether nearly half of Republicans are crazy or just plain stupid. Or whether there's something about being a Republican that makes people delusional once they join the party.
And, as if I needed more proof that there's something fundamentally unAmerican about contemporary conservativism, this afternoon some Republicans pronounced the whole thing Obama's fault because he hadn't released his birth certificate earlier.
My country, my country.