Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is a senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the new book "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
By John Avlon, Special to CNN
The wingnut wars continued this week with revivals of unwelcome old fringe fault lines: the birthers are back in the form of a state legislature vote and members of a teacher’s union are protesting budget cuts with a prayer for the New Jersey governor’s death and comparisons to genocidal dictators.
The birthers’ claims that President Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore constitutionally ineligible to be president should be on the ash-heap of discredited conspiracy theories by now. But despite his birth certificate being put online by the Obama campaign back in June of 2008, verified by both Politifact and the Republican governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, the desperate attempt to de-legitimize our duly elected president has its defenders. Add to that list the GOP members of the Arizona House of Representatives, who by a vote of 31 to 21, voted this week to require President Obama – or any presidential candidate – to submit their birth certificate to appear on the state ballot.
Arizona Republican State Representative Cecil Ash appeared on CNN's "AC360" on Wednesday night to defend the ridiculous bill (which still has to pass the state Senate), and in his fumbling offered this revealing explanation:
"I think there's been a lot of controversy over the issue, created a division among a lot of people in the United States, for better or worse, many people don't believe he is a U.S. citizen, they believe he has loyalties, divided loyalties I suppose you could say."
Fears of “divided loyalties” is what this is ultimately about – a deep discomfort with Obama as president, rooted in a twisted belief that he is fundamentally un-American. The birth certificate is both a symbol of this belief and an attempt to undo an election after the fact, stemming off the deeper dynamic that has caused some unhinged people to believe that losing an election is the equivalent of living under tyranny. The wingnut legislators who voted for this bill ought to be ashamed for this ugly bit of pandering while remembering a bit of apparently forgotten wisdom – everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.
On the left, union protests over budget cuts in states across the nation have taken on urgency with budget season upon us. But they got Tony Soprano ugly in the Garden State earlier this month, when New Jersey’s Bergen County Teachers Union President Joe Coppola sent this e-mail to 17,000 of his brethren:
"Dear Lord, this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays... . I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor."
Coppola's defense was that this pop-culture imprecatory prayer was a joke that reflected lousy judgment and said that it was never meant to be seen by the public. But that option doesn’t exist in the age of the Internet – and postings on their union’s protest Facebook page only compounded the controversy. Here’s Camden County Vocational and Technical High School biology teacher Marlene Brubaker post, as uncovered by PolitickerNJ's Wally Edge: "KingKrisKristy is copying from another famous dictator: Pol Pot, who got rid of teachers and intellectuals and turned the population against them. NJ has its own Khmer Rouge, it's your Legislature." Classy.
Comparing any elected official to a genocidal dictator is always way across the line, whether it is a Democrat like President Obama or a Republican like Chris Christie. And when the rage is directed at a 5% budget cut per school district – returning to 2007 budget levels – in an effort to close a $10.7 billion dollar budget gap, we are in danger of losing any sense of perspective. It’s made even worse by the fact that teachers are paid to set an example for our children both in and out of the classroom.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.