The resilience of Ron Paul and (unrelated) the birthers

If the media is ever going to give Ron Paul the serious coverage he deserves, now is the time. Last week he received a long endorsement from prominent blogger, Andrew Sullivan. Then in the Fox News Iowa debate, he distinguished himself (yet again) from almost all other Republican politicians, especially with regard to foreign policy.But the real news is the latest poll from PPP (a highly accurate agency for the past several elections), which shows Ron Paul as the frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses. This is newsworthy. It is very late in the campaign season for Iowa. Despite being treated by almost everyone in broadcast media as a sideshow or a pariah -- the best interview of Paul on TV was definitely the open-ended and open-minded style that Jay Leno used -- his campaign has struck the right notes with a lot of the electorate. It's Monday morning, and Ron Paul's resilience is the U.S. political news of the week.However, buried in that same poll is another resilient factor in this presidential election. When asked if President Obama was born in the United States, 52% of Republican caucus-goers answered "no" (31%) or "not sure" (21%). This is also newsworthy -- and frightening. The misinformation of a large part of the electorate is, at least in this instance, not primarily the fault of the broadcast media. Bill O'Reilly, for example, famously debunked birther conspiracy theories when they first arose (I know, not so for all the colleagues at his network). It wasn't difficult for him to do. So I don't know who is at fault with this one, or whether poll respondents simply think it's fun and outlandish to say such things. But if they believe what they are saying, the resilience of this lie is scary for a democratic society.

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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