A guide for the gullible


As part of my ongoing mission to highlight voter gullibility, today I intend to address several of the virulent cyber-smears currently circulating online about Barack Obama. 

I'm referring not to the old lies - that he's supposedly a Muslim (he's not); and that he supposedly refuses to put his hand on his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance (he does what we all do) - but, rather, to a pair of fresher lies.

It's fascinating that some of the same voters who refuse to believe what they read in mainstream newspapers will nevertheless willingly swallow the toxic sludge that arrives as email. Over the past few days, these credulous souls have been urgently sharing these missives with me, demanding to know why "the media" has refused to print or broadcast these dire "facts" about Obama.

My response: Because these emails are lies. Easily refutable lies. Indeed, any citizen with an ounce of sense can dispel these lies by doing minimal research with a few clicks of the mouse.

Take, for instance, the current email about Obama and the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This one has ricocheted around the Internet over the past few days, and the gullible are in high dudgeon. As one recipient complained to me (and this is the only printable line), "How can we elect somebody who disrespects our soldiers the way he did?"

The widely circulated email, signed by Jeffrey Porter, an Army captain stationed in Afghanistan, purported to describe Obama's visit to the war zone eight days ago: "As the Soldiers where lined up to shake his hand he blew them off and didn't say a word as he went into the conference room to meet the General. As he finished, the vehicles took him to the ClamShell (pretty much a big top tent that military personnel can play basketball or work out in with weights), so he could take his publicity pictures playing basketball. He again shunned the opportunity to talk to Soldiers to thank them for their service...I think that if you are going to make an effort to come all the way over here you would thank those that are providing the freedom that they are providing for you...I just don't understand how anyone would want him to be our Commander-and-Chief. It was almost that he was scared to be around those that provide the freedom for him and our great country."

But while this email was still circulating among the masses, all the particulars fell apart. It turned out that Porter didn't know what he was talking about - and that, after realizing his errors, he notified the press. He told a blogger for the New York Daily News: "I am writing this to ask that you delete my email and not forward it. After checking my sources, information that was put out in my email was wrong. This email was meant only for my family. Please respect my wishes and delete the email and if there are any blogs you have my email portrayed on I would ask if you would take it down too."

Meanwhile, an Army spokesman said that the email remarks were "inappropriate and factually incorrect." And no wonder: there are videos that show Obama shaking hands with the troops at that Afghanistan base, mixing with them, eating breakfast with them. And he never played any basketball during that visit.

So much for that email. As for the other, it too posits the theme of Obama the UnAmerican.

This anonymous email, which is also currently in mass circulation, declares that Obama is not eligible to serve as president. It states in part: "Barack Obama is not a legal U.S. natural-born citizen, according to the law on the books at the time of his birth."

On what basis does it make such a claim? Try to follow this reasoning: According to the email, a child born on American soil is not a citizen unless at least one of the parents has "resided in the United States for minimum ten years, five of which must be after the age of 16." Therefore, Obama doesn't qualify, because his father was Kenyan, and his mother "was only 18 when Obama was born. This means even though she had been a U.S. Citizen for 10 years, (she) fails the test for at-least-5-years-prior-to Barack Obama's birth, but-after-age-16."

Got all that? Apparently, this email has horrified many of its recipients, who now believe that the Democrats are recklessly poised to nominate a non-citizen, that "the media" have let it happen, and that therefore Obama should be stopped at all costs. (One recipient asked me, "Who nominated him without checking eligibility?")

But the email is hogwash. If these recipients took 30 seconds to surf the Internet, they would discover that Barack Obama acquired automatic citizenship at the moment of his first breath, simply by being born on U.S. soil, in the new state of Hawaii.

His mother's age, or the amount of time she spent living on U.S. soil, had nothing to do with it. The first rule of citizenship is stated for all to see - in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

And the thrust of the amendment was later underscored by Congress in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which states: "All persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power are declared to be citizens of the United States."

I have no doubt that most of the prospective voters who oppose Obama do so for defensible reasons (the belief that he is too inexperienced, or too liberal, or simply that John McCain is more attractive as a candidate). But if this turns out to be a close election, the gullible and the credulous might wind up as a swing vote, and it would not be one of democracy's finest hours if the choice of a president hinges in part on the indefensible persuasiveness of viral lies.

But such is human nature; refuting untruths has always been a challenge. As Mark Twain wrote more than a century ago, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."