Although Dr. Conspiracy is obsessed with tracking the birthers — before he retired, he worked on the software that state governments use to manage vital records, and that got him interested in the debate over Obama’s birth certificate — he is not one of them. After engaging with thousands of people who believe Obama has committed identity fraud, he says, “I know two examples in the entire country of birthers who changed their views. It’s just in the nature of believers that you can’t back down.”
Conspiracy theories have been an undercurrent in American politics since the birth of the republic, but after decades in which such ideas could be hawked only through obscure newsletters and shortwave radio, the Internet and cable TV have made it far easier to connect with like-minded souls.
From inside the information silos of left and right, Obama can seem to be the subject of the most virulent hatred of any modern president. But that’s been said of the past three occupants of the White House. Hillary Clinton said during her husband’s presidency that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to get him, and an energetic network of Enemies of Bill questioned his qualifications and honesty from long before his candidacy through his impeachment in 1998.
George W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon hold the modern records for highest disapproval ratings in Washington Post-ABC News polling, but such surveys don’t capture the relatively small numbers of people who turn unhappiness with a president into a dyspeptic worldview.
“There’s a certain world of people who move from one conspiracy theory to the next,” says Bill Bryan, proprietor of The Fogbow, a Web site devoted to debunking anti-Obama movements. “Obama is perfect for them. They just hate him so much, and the election won’t end that. They really believe that one day soon, he’ll be declared an illegal president and Obamacare will vanish with a poof and Sotomayor and Kagan will have to leave the Supreme Court.”
“I got sucked into their vortex,” Bryan says, “but when I run into normal people, like waiters at a restaurant, only half of them have even heard of birthers, so I take comfort in that.”