Birtherism may finally be withering. A new Washington Post poll released this week found that only 10 percent of Americans say President Obama was probably born abroad, down from 20 percent in the weeks before Obama released his long-form birth certificate. Another contributing factor: The president's announcement of Osama bin Laden's death. But the tradition of conspiracy theorizing is hardly over. A new group of skeptics — those who insist bin Laden isn't really dead — has begun speaking up. Even as al Qaeda itself has confirmed bin Laden's demise, dogged "deather" conspiracy theorists remain unconvinced. Is such quackery here to stay?
Yes, birthers had to find a new gig: "You can't say you didn't see this coming," says Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Those who resisted taking "the president at his word regarding his birthplace" have been thoroughly shut down, so they need a new conspiracy theory as an outlet for their skepticism, especially given the "substantial political capital bin Laden's killing" was bound to give their nemesis, President Obama. "The quick disposal of bin Laden's body" and Obama's refusal to release photos of bin Laden's corpse provided just the seed of doubt they needed.
"Goodbye 'birthers,' hello 'deathers'"
No, the death questions will fade fast: Deatherism is definitely popular with those on the Right who will cling to anything that seems to discredit Obama, "however insane," says Michael J. W. Stickings at the Tufts University Roundtable. But "I doubt it will have much staying power, and certainly not nearly as much as birtherism." Obama's conservative critics have other, more plausible lines of attack, such as accusing Obama of taking too much credit.
"Birthers, deathers, will the madness never end?"
Actually, "torturism" is the new birtherism: Many ex-birthers can't afford to go "full-tilt death-photo," says Leslie Savan at The Nation, because that would align them with Islamist conspiracy theorists, who also believe Osama's demise was faked. The more "'patriotic' and viable vessel for hatred of Obama is 'torturism'" — the belief that waterboarding, as endorsed by George W. Bush, provided the clue that led to bin Laden. That transfers much of the credit for the raid to Bush and Cheney, making it "the best new way of denying Obama his legitimacy."
"Torturism, the new birtherism"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The latent sexism of the male marriage proposal
- Bush vs. Clinton in 2016 is the perfect way to make millennials hate politics even more
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- This judge is the reason we're still fighting over net neutrality
- The hilarious hypocrisy of Republicans complaining about the imperial presidency
- The week's best photojournalism
Subscribe to the Week