[media id=9110] Chris Matthews highlighted this nutcase birther at a town hall with Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), questioning Obama's citizenship and forc
July 21, 2009

Chris Matthews highlighted this nutcase birther at a town hall with Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), questioning Obama's citizenship and forcing a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. It's unfiltered crazy in action. In the 1990s, the media took these fringe scandals regarding Bill Clinton and gave them a platform and some credibility, seeping them into the mainstream. You can draw a through-line from the out-there lies of the extreme right like the alleged murder of Vince Foster and the Clinton impeachment. Some in the media, like Lou Dobbs, continue to do that today, legitimizing the birther movement. And several far-right Congressmen have co-sponsored a bill to require Presidential candidates to provide proof of US citizenship. Today on Hardball, Rep. John Campbell, who thinks Atlas Shrugged is non-fiction, tried to dodge the issue by claiming that this is merely a technical bill to ensure Presidents meet the requirements of office in some official capacity, but Matthews was having none of it. He called it a "crazy proposal" and tried to peg down Campbell on whether or not he believed Obama was an American citizen. It took him all of 10 minutes to finally say he believed Obama was.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, nice try. But what you're doing, it's a nice try, and I'm laughing with you only to this extent, because I know it's a nice try. What you're doing is appeasing the nutcases. As you've just pointed out, this won't prove or disprove whether Barack Obama's a citizen. By the way, let me show you his birth certificate. That's the way to deal with this. Mail this birth certificate to the whacko wing of your party, so they see it and say, "I agree with this, it's over." [...] you're verifying the paranoia out there. You're saying to the people, "That's right, it's a reasonable question whether he's a citizen or not."

Campbell squirmed and shuffled, first saying that Obama was an American citizen "as far as I know," (Matthews responded: "As far as you know? I'm showing you his birth certificate!") and then eventually saying "I believe he is."

Now, I don't remember Matthews being so insistent about "appeasing the nutcases" back in the 1990s, when he had Paula Jones on his shows, and Dan Burton, and the Arkansas State troopers, and every other two-bit huckster peddling juicy gossip about "Slick Willie." But clearly the atmosphere has changed, at least for Tweety. The birther movement has become a bridge too far.

Never mind that the Senate went so far as passing a unanimous resolution that John McCain, born in the Canal Zone in Panama, was a natural-born citizen. Democrats resolved the issue quickly; Republicans will raise questions and put out clarifying legislation and just put it "out there."

It just shows you how diverged the conversations have become in this country. Democrats are debating how to tackle health care and whether a public option works best and how best to get costs under control, and the right has become fixated on the idea that Barack Obama's family faked his birth certificate 47 years ago, knowing he would run for President eventually and need a cover story.

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