Signs, signs, everywhere they’re signs…

2009 August 5
by Leah Yale Potter
Billboad on I-5, Washington State

Billboard on Interstate 5, Washington State

“Blockin’ up the scenery, breakin’ my mind.”  Well sung, Tesla.  Riding out a heat wave in the Pacific Northwest last week, my husband and I were taking in the sights along I-5 in southern Washington State when we spied a bonafide birther’s billboard (no sign of Lou Dobbs, though). “Wow, these really exist!,”  we exclaimed.  Getting over our disbelief that the “birther movement” wasn’t something conjured up by bored MSNBC producers, we wildly speculated about the local conditions that may have born such bunkum.  Was the shadow of Mt. St. Helen’s obscuring the facts?  Perhaps the whir of the high-speed Cascades train (imported from Spain!) was drowning out the truth. Or maybe because the state route signs are in the shape of George Washington’s profile, residents feel compelled to verify the birth creds of all subsequent presidents.  Sssshhh, don’t tell them that George Washington wasn’t actually born in the United States.

Obama, of course, is not the first U.S. president whose national origins have been questioned.  While a vice presidential nominee, Chester A. Arthur faced numerous allegations that he was born in Canada, or worse Ireland, instead of North Fairfield, Vermont as maintained in his official campaign biography.  Arthur dismissed the charges as “ridiculous,” yet did himself no favors by lying about his date of birth (he claimed to have been born in 1830 instead of 1829).  And, unlike today, there really was no birth certificate so the public relied on Arthur’s own recounting of his birth story.  In an August 13, 1880 article, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which covered the story at some length, justified itself on these grounds:

The allegation may be untrue, but it is not ridiculous….In the absence of any additional facts, Mr. Arthur’s statement must be accepted as conclusive…all who know Mr. Arthur will accept his word as determining this much, at all events: that Mr. Arthur believes what he states.  Since Mr. Arthur has seen fit to say so much, it is to be regretted he did not say enough to settle the question.  A few particulars touching his maternal parent would have furnished all the information his party or the voters have a right to ask for.

Brookyln Daily Eagle, September 21, 1881

Brooklyn Daily Eagle editorial, September 21, 1881

Vermont Historical Marker

Historical Marker, Highway 36 near Fairfield, Vermont

The rumors resurfaced after Garfield’s assassination in 1881 when Arthur became the 21st president of the United States. Thanks to birthers, Arthur’s murky provenance is once again making it into (fake) news headlines.  A historical marker erected by the state of Vermont attempts to put the controversy to rest, but one wonders if some skeptics will ever be satisfied. Vermonters, at least, can rest assured that if debates over either Arthur’s or Obama’s citizenship persist, they won’t have to read about them on billboards.  Vermont has banned these roadside blights since 1968.  Maine, Hawaii, and  Alaska are the only other states to have followed suit.  Now, there’s a movement I could believe in.

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1 Comment
2009 September 16
Sean Griffin permalink

I thought a post that started off quoting Tesla lyrics couldn’t get any better but it did. Well sung, Leah.

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