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July 25, 2009

The birth of a notion for ignorance


"Education is dangerous," said Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler's second-in-command and head of the Luftwaffe. "Every educated person is a future enemy."

I know I'm probably over-reacting, folks, but the much-played recent TV and Internet video of state of Delaware Republican Congressman Mike Castle having his town hall meeting hijacked by screaming zealots was downright scary.

A woman in the audience grew increasingly louder and more shrill while insisting that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States and therefore isn't eligible to be president of the United States.

Cheers erupted in the crowd even before she invoked her father's service in World War II and led the room in a raucous and somehow defiant-sounding recitation of the Pledge of Alligiance.

There was something about that loud, insistent commandeering of patriotism _ no matter how ignorant the cause _ that was reminiscent of the 1921 Hitler-supporting Brown Shirts meeting at the Munich Hofbrauhaus.

Hitler's thugs beat up their opponents in a melee at the beer hall that came to be called the "Saalschlacht" _ or meeting hall battle _ in Nazi propaganda.

While there were no actual blows struck during the Delaware unpleasantness, poor, shouted-down Mr. Castle _ a Republican moderate who almost assuredly did not vote for Mr. Obama _ appeared to be the only sane person in the room.

"If you're referring to the president," the professorial gentleman said with a quiet, dismissive dignity, "then he is a citizen of the United States."

This was greeted with hoots and boos from the crowd, which didn't want the facts to get in the way of their anger and bluster.

"You can boo," said Castle, who is said to be considering a run for the Senate, "but he is a citizen of the United States."

That Obama has every right to be president is overwhelmingly borne out by the evidence.

FactCheck.org is a well-respected project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, established by the late publisher, philanthropist and Ronald Reagan-appointed ambassador Walter Annenberg.

It describes itself as a "nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics."

Here's what it had to say last August about the Obama birth certificate subject to such hysterical scorn by "Birthers" like those at the Castle meeting.

"FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false."

Even the far-right World Net Daily website doesn't disagree.

It concluded: "A separate WND investigation into Obama's birth certificate utilizing forgery experts also found the document to be authentic."

If that, and similar conclusions from other responsible investigators, weren't enough, the announcement of Obama's Aug. 4, 1961, birth appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser daily newspaper on Aug. 13, 1961 _ on page B-6.

You could look it up.

But that won't stop the crazies from believing that his grandparents _ figuring no doubt that someone named Barack Hussein Obama would run for president someday _ arranged for a fictitious birth announcement ... just in case.

All that logic hasn't stopped some radio talk show hosts and CNN's Lou Dobbs from feeding the "Birther" frenzy.

It really makes me miss the days when Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America."

Cronkite, who died Friday at age 92, would have debunked the "Birthers" by presenting the facts, and the nation would have believed him.

End of story.

But Walter is gone, and it's beyond frightening to think that many of our citizens get their news exclusively from watching either the left-wing, comedic "Daily Show" or by listening to right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh.

The "Birthers" are ideological kin to the conspiracy nut jobs who deny the Holocaust, claim the Twin Towers were felled by a controlled demolition rather than airplanes on 9/11 and insist that America never landed anyone on the moon.

What they all have in common is an ability to live off the ignorance of the land, and there is just no way the truth will ever dissuade their followers.

Annenberg donated hundreds of millions of dollars to educational pursuits. Unlike Goering, he regarded ignorance as an enemy rather than an ally.

"Education," Annenberg once said, "holds civilization together."

These days, education certainly has its work cut out for it.

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Sam Pollak is editor or The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at 607-432-1000, ext. 208.