The newest Birther myth

Author claims movement started on the left

Published February 10, 2010 7:01PM (EST)

John Avlon and the Daily Beast have a book to sell. Avlon, a former cheef speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is the author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America," which is the first book being published by Beast Books. And as part of their promotion for it, the DB printed an article by Avlon in which he attempts to make the case that the Birthers -- those people who believe President Obama is, by dint of his birth, not eligible to serve as president -- got their start on the left.

Naturally, conservatives on the Internet, from Newsbusters to Instapundit to Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism, have been eating this up. And who could blame them? This little bit of historical revisionism lets them pretend that a movement that has become truly problematic for teh right is actually a liberal phenomenon, if not a conspiracy against the right.

Problem is, the whole premise is faulty.

Oh, Avlon is right about one thing: The Birthers did start out as part of the PUMA movement. (That is, "Party Unity My Ass," a very loose collection of die-hards who refused to give up even after Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Obama.) Anyone who's followed the Birthers from their early days could have told you that. And the movement's legal eagle, back before Orly Taitz, was Phil Berg, a self-professed Democrat who also happens to be a 9/11 Truther.

But come on. Saying PUMAs -- especially the ones at the farthest, racist fringes of the movement, where Birtherism began -- were on "the left" is a lot like saying Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is on "the left." It makes the term meaningless. Remember that the PUMAs went on to oppose nearly every one of Obama's proposals, and to embrace Sarah Palin; both are not exactly markers of leftism. Besides, whether this was true or not, it doesn't matter now; even if PUMAs are on the left -- and they're not -- they're a tiny portion of it, while the right has seen an explosion of Birtherism, with the movement being encouraged by mainstream conservatives like Palin and Tom DeLay.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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