Great men don’t volunteer themselves—they are chosen by history. Jerome Corsi is one such man. A simple writer from East Cleveland, Ohio, Corsi was swept into the flow of national events by sheer coincidence. The author of Unfit For Command—in which former swift boat crewmen question the validity of John Kerry’s war medals—and a leading voice in the Birther movement, in which elderly white people and former Watergate conspirators question the validity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, Corsi suffered the awful burden of being the only man in America with access to information disqualifying a popular Democrat from holding the office of President. Twice.
Corsi was the organizing voice behind Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, although that pack of habitual backstabbers have gone on to say that Corsi didn’t quite render a true account, either. He’s also the author of a book called Obama Nation, which is actually a pretty clever title when you say it out loud. Depending on which hastily constructed website you look at, Corsi is either a professional smear artist or a master of the technically-true statement, as this work of evil genius indicates. Nothing in that press release is prima facie untrue: the JPEG image of Obama’s birth certificate was definitely not folded, nor does it bear an embossed or raised seal. Granted, the online Certificate of Live Birth is a two-dimensional object, and its image on your computer screen is not an official document. But neither of those facts logically contradicts the statement “Hawaii refuses to verify president’s [sic] online COLBs.” Especially when you consider the differences between the words “validate” and “verify.”
Of course, the assertions in Corsi’s press release seem not especially true in light of this article, or in light of we are looking at a copy of Obama’s goddamn birth certificate right now. To the reasonable layperson, the widespread availability of digital copies of the document, combined with the willingness of various Hawaiian officials to confirm that Obama was born in Hawaii, seem to suggest that the President of the United States is an American citizen. Which brings us to an important question: What kind of sociopath is Jerome Corsi? Does he believe that Barack Obama is a Kenyan sent to prepare America for submission to our Muslim masters, thus making Corsi the delusional, pitiable kind of sociopath? Or has he simply recognized that there are enormous amounts of money to be made by being the guy willing to make patently false assertions on a national stage and then stick with them, no matter what contrary evidence or argument is presented? If that’s the case, he’s a TFD* sociopath, and we should probably make him wear a special shirt or something.
Evidence for the first theory does present itself. Consider that Mr. Corsi is a proponent of the abiotic theory of petroleum production, which holds that oil is produced by chemical processes deep within the earth and does not come from organic matter. Corsi is not a theoretical geologist, so why he felt qualified to write a book that advances the anecdotal speculations of nineteenth-century Texas oilmen over the consensus of the entire modern scientific community is unclear. Possibly, he is insane. Corsi’s book did make him eleventy gajillion dollars, though, and Unfit for Command sold 1.2 million copies, and my guess is there’s a very boring birth certificate book in the works, too. There is no question that Jerome Corsi’s global conspiracy theories have made him rich, and that he has advanced them via techniques that privilege perpetuation of the argument over the search for an accurate conclusion. If he is delusional, he is that rare paranoiac whose delusions turn a profit. Good for him, I guess.
Should Mr. Corsi be simply lying, however, he presents a more vexing problem. The odds of actual Jerome Corsi actually influencing anything more significantly than he did the 2004 Presidential campaign are pretty slim, and even that probably wouldn’t have worked had the Democrats not tried to elect a President made of melting wax. Still, Corsi draws attention to a flaw in the little-d democratic system. In an America where any asshole can have a blog and information tends to come in 30-second units, rumormongering becomes a much more effective tool. “I heard Barack Obama is not a citizen” is the silverfish of political arguments: easily killed in good light, but also very fast and constantly breeding.
The problem is worse than the analogy suggests, since silverfish are not constantly sending small amounts of money to a guy who looks like he subtly touches himself in church. The example of Jerome Corsi shows us that anyone can get rich and mildly famous, provided he is willing to say something audacious that a few people want to hear and then doggedly insist that he believes it is true. The existence of such people is a direct threat to American democracy. They undermine not just innocent people, not just political discourse, but our confidence in truth itself. Jerome Corsi is gaslighting the American people, and he’s living proof that anyone can do it. The more people act like him, the more nothing we ever do together will work.
* Total Fucking Denial. Asterisk technology really took a hit this week.