Since 2009, these sorts of events have become all-too common.
Here’s how it usually goes.
The member of Congress is hosting a town-hall meeting with constituents. Up steps an agitated taxpayer who is usually clutching a large handful of printed-out documents. The citizen’s questions boils down to this: I’ve found a bunch of stuff on the Internet that claims Barack Hussein Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen. As my representative, why aren’t you doing more to kick him out of office?
We expect it is a question senators and representatives from heavily Republican districts would rather not face. Our members of Congress must be careful in answering, lest he or she risk riling the voters. Birtherism among the extreme right is an unquenchable fire. No matter the times it is debunked, this lie won’t go away from the true believers who remain disbelieving their country could elect such a man. The only explanation in their eyes is some sort of massive fraud perpetrated on the American people.
With all that going against them, a dispassionate review of the facts isn’t likely to get a congressman very far.
A case in point came last month for Alabama Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery. A constituent at a town hall asked, “What I need from you is to know what you can do, you and your fellow non-communist colleagues in the lower House, what you can do to stop these communist tyrannical executive orders laid down by this foreign-born, America-hating communist despot?”
Roby didn’t bother setting the questioner straight on his bogus claims about the president. Instead, she said, “Look, I can’t emphasize the oversight part of my job enough.” And you probably thought all the diplomatic answers came from the State Department.
In defense of Roby, we’ll point out that the audience cheered loudly at the questioner’s query. A little fact-checking (much less telling the questioner he’s off his rocker) would have almost certainly turned those cheers into boos.
Last week in a town-hall meeting, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., had a similar hot potato land in his lap. He, too, was posed a birther question. “I believe what you’re saying, and I don’t support this president whatsoever,” the congressman said in response, “but ma’am, we lost Nov. 6. We had the opportunity to get another president in there.”
As we can see, Mullin tried to get creative with his dodge, though he may have left the impression that he was sympathetic to this birther nonsense. It fell to a spokeswoman from the congressman’s office to clear it all up: “He doesn’t support the birther argument. He just misspoke when he said that. He, however, did not misspeak when he said, ‘I do not support this president whatsoever.’ ”
In the current climate, a congressman expressing no support “whatsoever” for the president — not in managing the crisis in Syria, not in helping the U.S. economy recover, not in fighting global terrorism, apparently in nothing — is probably as good as it gets.