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August 12, 2009

Of “Birthers” and “Blue Dogs”

Michael Kurtianyk

I love language. I especially like the etymology of words and phrases. Did you know, for example, that the “dog days” of summer actually relates to Sirius, the “dog star,” which rises and sets with the sun?


The ancients believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot weather. It’s interesting that as I continue delving into politics, both locally and nationally, I am learning some excellent vocabulary words. There are two that I learned recently that I can now add to my ever-expanding vocabulary: “birthers” and “blue dogs”.


It seems that President Barack Obama is continuing to get flack over his birth certificate. There are conspiracy theorists (known as “birthers”) out there who claim that he should not be president because he was not born in the United States as required by our Constitution. You’d think this would have been researched before the elections.


That this issue keeps coming up – voiced by people on the fringe – only speaks to them having too much, oh, I don’t know, free time on their hands. That this is a far-right issue is beyond doubt.


Lou Dobbs of CNN (why he’s still there I don’t know) continues to push the envelope on this so-called “issue.” He keeps asserting that President Obama needs to produce some sort of long form birth certificate, not understanding that what Hawaii produces is the document in question. The problem with Mr. Dobbs and others is that no matter what evidence is placed before them, they will still be skeptical. Think Roswell 1947 and you get the idea that birthers will never be satisfied.


Two web sites, ( and have debunked claims that President Obama has not released a valid birth certificate. The document produced by President Obama, meets the U.S. State Department’s requirements for proving U.S. citizenship. This, along with a 1961 newspaper announcement of his birth and statements last year by state officials in Hawaii, removes any doubt that President Obama is a natural-born citizen.


The other phrase I learned is “Blue Dog” Democrat. This group has come to the forefront in recent weeks due to the debate about the administration’s healthcare initiative. According to their website ( “The fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition was formed in 1995 with the goal of representing the center of the House of Representatives and appealing to the mainstream values of the American public. The Blue Dogs are dedicated to a core set of beliefs that transcend partisan politics, including a deep commitment to the financial stability and national security of the United States. Currently there are 51 members of the Blue Dog Coalition.”


It was former Rep. Pete Geren (D., TX), who said that the members have been "choked blue" by extreme Democrats from the left. Thus, he is credited for coining the term. The Blue Dog Democrats tend to come from more conservative areas of the country, and are a safe alternative for voters in those areas. I think it’s cool that the newly-elected members into this coalition are called “Blue Pups.” That’s cool.


For some historical background, it turns out that Blue Dog Democrats are a derivative of the Yellow Dog Democrats, which began during the 1928 presidential election. Al Smith ran for president against Herbert Hoover. During that campaign, Senator Tom Heflin, of Alabama, declined to back his fellow Democrat, Al Smith.


Senator Heflin decided to support Herbert Hoover (Republican). His controversial actions were considered heresy, especially in the South. The following became a popular saying in the South: “I’d vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket".


So, getting back to the healthcare reform issue, the Blue Dogs have become pivotal for the administration. They want to make sure that the healthcare plan isn’t too expensive for small businesses. They also don’t want private health insurers to compete with a federally-funded plan.


As a result of these situations, I have learned about birthers and blue dogs. I’m not sure what the future holds for our English language. Who knows? Maybe I will someday understand and explain to others that the “tea parties” around the country aren’t truly grass roots campaigns, but rather corporate-funded excursions to defeating the healthcare reform program, which is badly needed in this country.


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