The Advocate’s Slip Is Showing

Yesterday, the Baton Rouge Advocate weighed in on the Louisiana “birther bill” controversy with an editorial.

As is typical, the Advocate’s editorial staff doesn’t give a byline to its piece. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. There isn’t a great deal of independent thought therein; it’s boilerplate any sophomore Young Democrat from journalism school could cook up.

The upshot? Gov. Bobby Jindal’s a racist for saying he’ll sign the bill if it makes its way through the legislature.

The assertion that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States is false. But calling for “enforcement” of the Constitution in this context is a cover for shady and slippery politics by Jindal and others.

On the one hand, Jindal says he believes the president to be a citizen.

On the other hand, he says he’ll sign a birther bill.

This is what is called in politics a “dog whistle.” While there is no reason for the Louisiana Legislature to pass a birther bill, the pledge to sign the bill is a signal to the lunatic fringe that Jindal is sympathetic to them.

It is a whistle heard by those intended to hear it, just as a dog’s whistle is not heard by humans — but rings clear to the canine.

This is what passes for analysis by the ink-stained wretches on Reiger Road.

First of all, they’re probably right that Obama was born in Hawaii. But the fact a controversy surrounding the president’s birthplace exists is a product of Obama’s deeds, along with a thoroughly incurious and slipshod job of vetting by biased legacy media outlets like the Advocate. After all, didn’t Baton Rouge’s paper of record sit on its hands for decades while corrupt Democrat politicians stole Louisiana blind? Now, of course, it has found religion. It expends man-hours in untold quantities to expose the fact that – the horror! –  Jindal speaks at churches on Sundays and uses state resources to get around while doing so.

Moreover, the paper’s shameful regurgitation of slanderous allegations of Jindal’s corruption made by a left-wing hack reporter at the New York Times in concert with a Soros-funded attack dog in D.C. regarding the existence of the First Lady’s charity work in improving education all but eliminates any credibility it might have as an objective voice. When the New York Times and the Orwellian-named Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington assailed Supriya Jindal’s Foundation for Louisiana’s Children, which solicits donations from corporations and moneyed individuals so as to purchase high-tech interactive whiteboards for public-school classrooms in underprivileged areas, it was disgraceful enough. But the Advocate repeated the nakedly partisan charges without ever doing so much as an interview with a child, parent or teacher in the affected schools to find out whether the whiteboards work or make a difference. For a paper supposedly serving the community, that abdication of journalistic responsibility was telling.

All of this is merely a predicate, mind you, for noting that when the Advocate accuses Jindal of “shady and slippery politics” it’s the pot calling the kettle black. The Advocate won’t admit it’s a left-wing paper, but for those of our readers who read it regularly the notion it’s not over-friendly to the Louisiana Democrat Party went by the boards years ago.

But that doesn’t slow the editorial staff down in the least in this case. It next calls the “birther bill” a “dog whistle,” which is a typical accusation made by Democrats about initiatives they don’t like. Dog-whistle accusations allow you to demonize people you disagree with on the cheap, and in this case the Advocate calls the significant proportion of the American public not satisfied with the quality of the president’s disclosures – not just on the question of his long-form birth certificate but lots of other records he refuses to provide – a “lunatic fringe.”

What percentage of the public is small enough to constitute a lunatic fringe?

I was at a press briefing a year ago at which Ted Griggs, the Advocate’s business writer, touted global-warming theory to Rep. Joe Barton in response to the latter’s explanations of why cap-and-trade legislation was a bad idea. How many people share Griggs’ belief that man-made carbon dioxide will convert Earth into Venus (or something)? Is it more than the “lunatic fringe” who would like to see Obama show his birth certificate? I don’t know the hard numbers on each, but my guess is that global warming has less adherents than “birtherism” does.

But the Advocate isn’t a particularly good barometer of what is mainstream and what is fringe in any event. After all, in 2009 the paper endorsed Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $900 million boondoggle bond issue, the centerpiece of which was an ill-conceived theme park on the river that had so little chance of economic success that not a single private investment dollar was pledged to it, on land the city didn’t even have clear title to. Despite the Baton Rouge Business Report joining the bandwagon on the farce and the downtown Baton Rouge mob greedily signing on, the issue failed by a 64-36 count on Election Day. I found that remarkable; when the only paper in a market gives an endorsement of a candidate or initiative, that endorsement usually carries with it enough stroke to at least bring 40 percent of the vote. The Advocate doesn’t come close, apparently, which indicates either a lack of influence with its own readers or a sizable disconnect with the majority of its readership area.

But wait. It gets worse.

Jindal’s stand is about politics, not constitutional law.

Jindal has been to the White House. He has eaten at the president’s table. He expects to be treated there as the governor of his state, whatever political differences the two of them might have.

Our system does not depend merely on laws, even the Constitution. It depends on an atmosphere of mutual respect, for the office if not the person or the views. By lending his signature to a birther bill, Jindal would put his politics above his personal obligation to make America’s political system work. Above the respect he ought to show to the president’s person, even if he disagrees with the president’s actions.

Finally, the son of Indian immigrants to this country, who have lived the American dream, should not be a party to this nativist agitation, which is at its root racist and anti-immigrant.

Piyush Amrit Jindal is the last man in America who should give his blessing to a birther bill.

Jindal didn’t really say what his motivation is for assenting to the bill. In discussing it with his staff, I came away with a strong sense that the governor couldn’t care less about the bill. A dozen states have bills in the works just like it, and in every state two things are true – first, the bill is a reaction to a strong sense among many that we need more vetting of presidential candidates, and second, it’s a manifestation of a sense that the states need to reassert some control over an out-of-control federal government and the nationalized political parties which dominate it. Forcing candidates to jump through hoops to get on the ballot in each state is a way to do that.

There is a constitutional basis for a bill requiring a presidential candidate to prove his eligibility for the office he seeks. Frankly, if it’s true that Obama was born outside of the country (which I think is unlikely), it might signify the worst constitutional crisis in American history. And it certainly would indicate that entrusting the political parties, both of whom have shown themselves to be completely untrustworthy in adherence to law and convention, to insure compliance with eligibility laws is foolish. There is no reason why a state can’t insist that proof of eligibility according to rules which are laid down in the Constitution be a requirement for ballot access. For the Advocate to dismiss an effort at that legitimate objective as a “dog whistle” is telling.

And if politics drives Jindal’s statement that he’ll sign the bill if it passes, so what? He’s a politician, after all. The “birther bill” isn’t exactly the end of the Republic; if it becomes law and survives a legal challenge, and if it forces Obama to disclose his long-form birth certificate to get on the ballot in Louisiana next year you can’t really argue any harm has been done. And if the president can’t or won’t show the birth certificate, that’s a problem on a much larger scale than just in Louisiana.

But beyond that, the “lunatic fringe” the Advocate decries is a not-insignificant portion of the state’s population. In fact, people who support this bill in Louisiana probably outnumber state employees or college students, interest groups the Advocate carries water for on a constant basis; bills are filed all the time for their benefit and the Advocate doesn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of their issues getting a hearing at the Legislature. Why isn’t the “lunatic fringe” entitled to pass a bill if it wins the argument at the Capitol?

The Advocate’s next canard is the idea that mutual respect between Jindal and Obama should trump all.

Perhaps the editors are uninformed about the fact that the president sent the Justice Department down to Louisiana on a partisan witch-hunt to accuse the Jindal administration of proselytizing voter registration on welfare recipients with insufficient vigor. Was that mutual respect? Was the all-important principle of comity and respect fulfilled when Obama invited Paul Ryan to a first-row seat to his own rhetorical evisceration in the president’s budget speech? Was it fulfilled this week when Obama’s mendacious BOEMRE flunky Michael Bromwich accused Louisiana’s elected officials, who in assailing the president’s needless and destructive moratorium on offshore drilling are merely doing their jobs and protecting their citizens, of being dishonest and unhelpful in their “sniping?”

I did a web search on all three issues and couldn’t find a single Advocate editorial on any of them. Perhaps the editors just aren’t aware of Obama’s manifestations of the “mutual respect” they find so important.

Or maybe they haven’t thought through the question. After all, mutual respect is best practiced when each side doesn’t believe the other is a fraud. “Trust, but verify” and so forth.

And last, we have a little racist dog-whistle of the Advocate’s own thrown in for good measure. The paper takes the position that because Jindal is the son of immigrants he’s not allowed to question Obama’s eligibility. Really? Forget about the fact that Obama’s father wasn’t an immigrant but a Kenyan who neither aspired to American citizenship nor attempted it, which makes the president’s situation notably different from Jindal’s. What’s most offensive, beyond the “dog whistle” of calling Jindal by his given name Piyush (a time-honored bit of bigotry by political opponents of the governor insinuating that “he’s not one of us”), is the idea expressed in that statement that one’s adherence to certain principles must be based on his or her identity. So because Jindal’s parents were Indian immigrants, he can’t favor a bill strengthening existing presidential eligibility requirements? Would it be different if he was Bobby Lee Smith or Bobby Robichaux?

The “birther” question is a controversial one. There is a significant body of thought even within conservative elites that swimming in birther waters is a good way for Republicans to drown. I’m on the fence about it; I think the disastrous quality of the Obama’s presidency comes in no small part due to the fact that he was allowed to present himself to the American people as something completely different than what he is, which allowed someone the voters never would have put in the White House to get elected. And the fight over his birth certificate is a small piece of a much larger question about the vetting process and the transparency of our leaders.

But on the other hand, I’m not convinced Obama is a Kenyan by any means. I think if push came to shove Obama would likely produce a long-form birth certificate that would make the “birthers” look like the “lunatic fringe” the Advocate claims they are. And in the event someone did prove he wasn’t born in the United States, the chaos that would unleash would be such that the public might not reward the intrepid truth-teller as he would hope. While it might offend my sense of truth and justice, this could well be a case of “watch out what you ask for.” It’s a lot simpler and better to just beat Obama in 2012 using the rest of the ammunition his awful performance has given conservatives.

And those points could have been part of an Advocate editorial on Louisiana’s birther bill. Opposing Jindal’s stance in and of itself isn’t offensive; I could probably write a piece criticizing his favorable position as careless and the bill itself as making Louisiana look out of the national mainstream, and I could point out some inconsistencies with respect to the demand for transparency that Jindal has fought with respect to the records of his administration. And if the editors at the Advocate wrote such a piece I’d have no reason to quibble, regardless of whether I disagreed with it.

But that’s not what came out of Reiger Road on Friday.

Carrying water for the state’s Democrat Party isn’t something new for the Advocate. Doing so in such a brazen, hostile and disingenuous fashion is a bit more notable. But perhaps we should be grateful. Whether they’re honest enough to admit it, it’s now obvious what side the newspaper of record in Louisiana’s capitol city is on.



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