A billboard on I-10 near Roanoke, Louisiana, asks drivers, ”Where’s the Birth Certificate?” The reference here is to President Obama, part of a long campaign to spread doubts about his citizenship. Many on the political right buy into the idea that Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii. They insinuate that he’s something strange, something scary, a Kenyan Muslim, perhaps, out to destroy the Land of the Free. Apparently they believe – or, in any case, want others to believe — that Obama, as a newborn Manchurian Candidate-to-be, somehow arranged to have birth notices placed in Hawaiian newspapers, so that he could grow up and become the first black president of the United States.

These claims have been thoroughly debunked, yet somehow the non-controversy persists among so-called “birthers.” Where is the birth certificate, they ask. A copy is on the internet. But that’s not good enough. They want to hold it in their hands and squint real hard at it, and only then will they be satisfied that Obama is a United States citizen.

Strike that. Birthers will never be satisfied. Even if the document passed their amateurish  scrutiny, eventually they’d realize that anyone capable of a lifelong conspiracy that placed him in the Oval Office would also have the means to create a perfectly counterfeit birth certificate. So the “controversy” must move on to the next level. Perhaps next year I-10 billboards will ask, “Where’s the 5th grade report card?”

These aren’t honest queries aiming for “truth.” They are expressions of circular (and hateful) beliefs. Birthers operate much like the Creationists who say they want science classes to explore the “controversy” surrounding evolution. Their skepticism is other-directed. It never circles back to call their own weird creed into question and the dogged distrust of science that comes with it. They doubt the things that cause them to doubt — and nothing else. It’s a way of avoiding psychic friction, and preserving the soothing beliefs in which they have become invested. It’s fake curiosity, and exemplifies a profoundly anti-intellectual approach to life.

Then again, no one ever said intellectual vitality had to overlap with effective political mobilization. (Actually, I suppose Plato said that. But since I’ve never seen his birth certificate, I can’t put much stock in his views.)

In the corner of the birther billboard I saw, there was a web address for World Net Daily, which is an online clearinghouse for the latest birther non-news. Normally I’d dismiss such far right nuttiness, but two recent developments make this much more interesting.

The first is that Donald Trump recently decided to resuscitate the birther nonsense, putting it front and center as he muses about running for president in 2012. Trump was immediately rewarded with huge media attention, and then surprisingly high poll numbers among GOP voters. (In the past Trump indicated he is pro-choice, for universal healthcare and open to higher taxes. But apparently those aren’t deal-killers for Republicans if a candidate is brave enough to question Obama’s citizenship.)

Clearly The Donald knows his base. Take a look at this Politico report:

Donald Trump’s birther crusade could be a boon in Iowa… a new poll shows.

A whopping 48 percent of Iowa Republicans said they don’t believe that Obama was born in the United States, according to the automated survey by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling out Tuesday. Another 26 percent said they weren’t sure whether or not the president was born in America as the Constitution requires to be eligible to serve in the nation’s highest office.

Trump has driven the widely discredited “birther” issue into the national spotlight as he flirts with an entry into the White House race, placing at the front of the pack in several national polls.

So three quarters of GOPers in the first caucus state are open to this birther hoo ha? That amazes me. While it’s hard to see Trump winning the Iowa caucus, he might do surprisingly well. And if he doesn’t win the nomination, he said he might run as an independent in the general election.

The Times Picayune reports on the second development that makes this resurgent birther issue interesting:

A pair of Republican state lawmakers have filed legislation to require future presidential candidates to prove their U.S. citizenship by providing “an original or certified copy” of their birth certificate in order to qualify for the Louisiana ballot.

House Bill 561 by Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, appears to be the latest attempt to capitalize on the widely discredited theory, popular in some conservative circles, that President Barack Obama was not born on American soil.

The bill, co-sponsored by state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, would require candidates who want to appear on presidential primary or general election ballots to include an affidavit attesting to the candidate’s citizenship that would be accompanied by a birth certificate “that includes the date and place of birth, the names of the hospital and the attending physician, and signatures of the witnesses in attendance.”

Governor Bobby Jindal’s spokesman says that, although Jindal believes the President is a citizen, the Governor will sign the bill. At least fifteen other states have birther bills making their way through legislatures. This week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer surprised many when she vetoed similar legislation. Jindal seems unconcerned about appearing even less statesmanlike and polished than the often-mocked Brewer.

President Obama could not have scripted these developments any better. Between Trump’s bloviations and the enactment of silly birther bills, it virtually guarantees that a stupid non-issue will become a significant campaign storyline. Republican candidates will have to address it, and take a position on the President’s citizenship, which has already been documented and certified. National Republican Party bigwigs do NOT want that. They want their Republican candidates to feed off the, um, grassroots passion of the birther issue without having to publicly acknowledge it. If they do so, then they’ll either alienate part of their base, or become a national media laughingstock. And now, because of these stupid birther laws, there will be the heightened “drama” in 2012 when candidate Obama qualifies in states like Louisiana. Will there be birther protests? Will Republican candidates disappoint their primary voters by declaring the obvious — that Obama is an American?

These dynamics shape up so well for Obama, I’m tempted to wonder if he and Trump didn’t make a secret deal for The Donald to run as a spoiler candidate, inject this idiotic birther nonsense into the GOP primaries, and then run as an independent in 2012, leaving the GOP field in disarray. Truly, who benefits the most when news coverage shows crowds of Obama opponents ignoring issues of substance and instead yelling, “Where is the birth certificate?”

Again, note Trump’s previous moderate-liberal views and also note that the poll in the Politico story was done by a Democratic firm. Is a backroom deal so unthinkable? Trump can’t lose — he gets to promote himself around the country before negotiating a new TV contract with network honchos at NBC. And Obama gets a third-party candidate who might draw a weird coalition of moderate Republicans and rabid birthers to split the anti-Obama vote in the general election. Even if Trump doesn’t have the stomach to run, he will have elevated the birther issue in ways uncomfortable for the GOP.

Now that would be a pretty devious collusion, and infinitely more probable than this Kenyan-Manchurian Candidate nonsense. I can’t help wondering if the real Manchurian Candidate, the fake right-wing zealot secretly scheming to elect an apparent foe, might not be Trump himself.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...