The Limits of Transparency

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 6:27 PM EDT

Should Barack Obama respond to the "birther" lunatics by asking the Hawaii Department of Health to produce his original birth certificate?  Should Sarah Palin be required to produce original medical records proving she's really Trig Palin's mother?  Conor Friedersdorf says no.  Elected officials may have less right to privacy than ordinary citizens, but there are limits:

As evident is that public officials are under no “transparency” obligation to address all questions. Were the right fringe to allege that Barack Obama is in fact a woman, and demand a photograph of his penis to definitively prove otherwise, and the left fringe retaliated by alleging that Sarah Palin is a man, and requested the same sort of photographic proof, Andrew [Sullivan] would surely join me in concluding that both politicians have some right to privacy. Right?

Right.  There's a level of craziness beyond which no politician is obligated to respond.  All it does is spur yet more craziness.  If you believe that the state of Hawaii has conspired to hack its computer system and produce a phony certificate of live birth, then what good would the original document do?  You'd just figure it had been forged.

If someone produces actual evidence of scandal or wrongdoing, then you have to respond.  But if mere conspiracy theorizing is all that's required, then the sky's the limit.  Bill Clinton has to prove he wasn't transporting bales of coke through Mena airfield.  Barack Obama has to prove his mother wasn't in Kenya in August 1961.  Sarah Palin has to prove she wasn't faking a pregnancy in 2008.  John McCain has to prove he didn't collaborate with the enemy while he was in a Vietnamese prison camp.

Conspiracy theorists will always be with us.  But the adult community doesn't have to humor them.  All that does is make things worse.