Lose your delusion

As much as it pains us to give even more public airplay to mistaken ideas and deliberate lies, the public interest is not well served by allowing them to go unchallenged.

Lately, we’ve been treated to some interesting delusions—or perhaps deliberate distortions—of the sort that threaten good public policy, if not the safety of certain public officials.

Consider the widespread right-wing hallucination that our still fairly new president, Barack H. Obama, is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and is therefore ineligible for his office. The “birther” movement has been gaining traction, mostly because it’s attracted the attention of a number of opportunistic media pundits (most notably Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs).

Let us say, loudly and firmly, that this is bunk. The president’s original birth certificate is on file in Hawaii, as confirmed by state officials. Certified copies are widely available on the Internet. Copies of his birth announcement in two local papers are also widely available, and the originals are safely stored in those papers’ morgues, the repository for copies of every issue printed (even SN&R has one).

Any further claims that President Obama is not eligible for the office he was legitimately elected to must be called what they are: the rantings of delusional people, many of whom are simply unable to accept the election of an African-American man to the highest office in the land.

The “deathers” are another issue entirely, for this particular distortion comes courtesy of a lobbyist for a company that profits from the high price of health care. As the debate about health-care reform continues, some people are being told that the plan supported by the president and most of the Democratic Party includes a requirement that the elderly be informed about their end-of-life options and discouraged from accepting life-saving treatment. The rumor also includes scary stories about the government’s plan to deny treatment to the elderly because it’s “not cost-effective.”

Balderdash. If any group is culpable in denying treatment because it’s not cost-effective, it’s insurance companies, who ruthlessly eliminate risk by refusing to insure or pay for treatment for all sorts of people, based on things like “pre-existing conditions” and “maximum benefits allowed.” The source of this rumor can be traced to Op-Ed pieces and commentary by Betsy McCaughey, an executive for biotech companies and a member of the Hudson Institute, which is funded by insurance companies. Both of the groups paying McCaughey’s salaries have plenty of reasons to oppose health-care reform.

Ultimately, the problem with “birthers,” “deathers” and other delusions is the way in which we continue to be distracted from the business at hand: extracting the United States from its entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, ensuring health care is available and affordable for all Americans, and restoring the economy to some sort of stability. To really understand these outrageous stories, ask yourself, who profits from a distracted public?