The Washington Post is out with a new survey suggesting that the number of Americans who doubt President Obama's citizenship has fallen dramatically. One week after releasing his long-form birth certificate to the public, just 10-percent of Americans say Obama was "likely" born abroad, down from 20-percent a year ago. That's progress, I suppose, but 10-percent is still a little high, and it's clear that some people are simply unwilling to let the conspiracy die.
Yesterday, for instance, the Missouri House of Representatives passed its birther bill, designed to protect the state from allowing any non-citizens to appear on the presidential ballot. Per the measure: "When certifying presidential and vice presidential nominees and requesting that such nominees be placed on the ballot, the state committees of each political party shall provide verifiable evidence of identity and proof of natural born citizenship."
When I spoke with the bill's sponsor, GOP Rep. Lyle Rowland, early last month, he emphasized that he's not a birther. "You know when I first started, reporters and other people were getting after me because I did this because of President Obama," Rowland said. "And as I told all the other reporters, it's not about President Obama. I believe the man is President of the United States and has met the qualifications for the presidency."
To that point, the Missouri bill is not as hysterical as some of the other proposals that have been introduced (there's no long-form requirement, for instance). But it's born out of the same hysterical climate, in which prominent conservatives sought to propogate a myth that the President was a foreign agent involved in an elaborate conspiracy to defraud the Republic. Missouri's provision, which is part of a broader package that includes a new voter ID law, still has to pass the Senate and win the approval of Republican Governor Jay Nixon.
Having trouble finding a date for the prom? Don't worry; under a bill that recently passed the Alabama state senate, undocumented teens might not be able to attend either. SB 256, the "Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act," takes steps to block employers from hiring illegal immigrants, gives law enforcement more authority to check immigration status, requires voters to bring proof of citizenship with them to the polls—and prohibits "participation in any extracurricular activity outside of the basic course of study" for K-12 students who aren't legal residents. In other words, no chess club or drama society for the kids; football might be a religion in Alabama, but that's off-limits too.
The bill, sponsored by GOP state Sen. Scott Beason, has many of the same features as the controversial law passed by Arizona last spring, with a few twists. Police officers would be required to to ask drivers for their immigration papers during routine traffic stops, if they have a "reasonable suspicion" the driver is not in the country legally. And because undocumented residents are already prevented from obtaining driver's licenses, the bill goes one step further, making it a crime to knowingly give a ride to an undocumented resident.
Beason, who did not respond to a request for comment, has previously called his measure a "jobs bill." He drew criticism in February when he told a county GOP meeting it was time to "empty the clip" on immigration reform. In the same speech he said this:
Liberals are always going to want to create their utopia—if they just have a little bit more tax money, if they just let a few more illegal immigrants in—they would just create this wonderful melting pot and it would all be beautiful and we'd run through the field of flowers. Well that’s not going to happen.
That does sound pretty nice, though. There are currently two similar immigration bills before the Alabama legislature; the other bill, which does not include the glee club provision, has already passed the House and made it through a Senate committee. It's not clear at this point which bill will be prioritized by the legislature. If Beason's bill does pass, though, Jared Shepherd, a law fellow with the Alabama ACLU, says the state can almost certainly expect a legal challenge.
Because the rest of the world seems to be slowly going to hell (quickly, in the case of Osama Bin Laden), we've been a little slow to jump on the latest reports out of the Mississippi Valley. But the news, per Good, is pretty bad: The Mississippi River is expected to exceed its highest water level in nearly a century, and has already forced thousands of residents to head for higher ground. At the epicenter of this disaster is the embattled city of Cairo, Illinois (as in Care-o or Kay-ro), which sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and is ringed on all sides by protective levees. The river's height outside Cairo is at 61 feet, which is totally nuts, and the town has been evacuated.
To alleviate some of the pressure and save Cairo from being washed out, the Army Corps of Engineers decided the best course of action was to blast a hole in a levee further downstream in Missouri, which would leave 130,000 acres of farmland underwater. After a failed legal challenge by Missouri, the Corps blasted the levee last night, reducing the water level at Cairo by a foot. But that plan of action has, unsurprisingly, stirred some strong feelings. Here's what Missouri State Rep. Steve Tilley, the Republican Speaker of the House, had to say last week:
When Tilley was asked Tuesday whether he would rather see Cairo or the farmland underwater, he told reporters, "Cairo. I've been there, trust me. Cairo."
"Have you been to Cairo?" he added. "OK, then you know what I'm saying then."
Unless you've been to Cairo, you probably don't really know what Tilley is saying, but basically it's this: The place is a mess. Since the 1920s, Cairo's population has shrunk from nearly 20,000 to under 3,000. Just inside the Ohio-side floodwall, its historic commerical drag is entirely empty and most of the buildings are burnt-out. Tilley would be a pretty lousy representative if he didn't stand up for his constituents' property, but there's a lot more to it than that: The debate over what to do about Cairo is colored by the way Cairo's neighbors view the place—and those views are colored by the city's traumatic history.
Ret. Sgt. Evan Cole enlisted the Army when he was a 17-year-old Michigan high school student in 2001. He got out of Walter Reed Naval Hospital three months ago. He has a six-inch scar on his right leg to go with injuries to his hand and his head from his tour in Ramadi. He made up his mind to join the army after the watched the Twin Towers fall in his geography class. Cole was one of thousands of revelers who gathered in front of the White House late last night and stayed well into the early hours of the morning to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden.
"In the last few years, it seemed like nobody even cared, like what we did over there in Iraq; nobody even talks about it anymore. It is so amazing to see so many people out here wearing red, white, and blue," Cole said. "See, that's what we were over there for—it's these people!"
Jena Passut, a writer at a trade publication in Fairfax, Virginia, was in tears when I talked to her. She had just met a man whose son had died in combat. "I really thought we would get Bin Laden but wouldn't see the body. They would just announce it." Her friend, Erin Dallas, echoed the thoughts of many in attendance: "Part of me thinks it's wrong that we're celebrating that somebody was killed, but we're celebrating because it's a relief."
The first Republican primary debate is scheduled for next Thursday in Greenville, South Carolina, and none of the cool kids are going to be there. Newt Gingrich says he's not ready, and if Newt's not going, Mitt Romney isn't, either. Mike Huckabee might not even run; Haley Barbour isn't running; Mitch Daniels needs more time; Jon Huntsman is still in China. The only serious contender who has pledged to attend the debate so far is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who, Politico reports, is now trying to get his fellow heavyweights on board through passive-aggressive statements:
"My Presidential exploratory committee will file the necessary papers and fees with the South Carolina Secretary of State next Tuesday because it's important that Republicans show up now, talk about their records, and begin the debate on how best we can defeat this President," Pawlenty said, not mentioning any rivals by name.
But Pawlenty won't be the only GOP candidate on the stage in Greenville. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) says he'll be there. Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain might be there, too. Same goes for former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer. (Things aren't looking good for Fred Karger, though.) That's not a very glamorous ensemble. But it could make for an interseting night.
Those candidates represent three distinct, occasionally disagreeable aspects of the Republican party. Roemer is a former Democrat who has based his candidacy in large part on the need to end subsidies for the energy industry—including not just ethanol, but oil and gas too. Cain has used his platform to push the most extreme anti-Islam message of any of the candidates, at times going so far as to promise not to hire any Muslims in his administration. You know where Paul stands—anti-war, anti-Fed, pro-pot, pro-gold.
None of them will win the Republican nomination, but they stand a very good chance of saying something that will force Pawlenty to take a stand on something he'd rather avoid. What does he think about billion-dollar handouts to oil companies? How far is he willing to take his new anti-Sharia schtick? If nothing else, we'll be spared the usual monotony—some awkward one-liners, a few canned barbs, and a whole lot of forced references to Ronald Reagan.