Ten days after the White House released the long-form version of President Obama's birth certificate, The Stranger received a copy of right-wing wannabe muckraker Jerome Corsi's book Where's the Birth Certificate? in the mail. The publishing industry always moves slowly, but it's rare that a publisher should eat shit in such spectacular fashion. Where's the birth certificate? Why, it's on every news site in America; the president's reelection campaign is cleverly selling copies of it on T-shirts and coffee cups. Meanwhile, where are your royalty checks, Mr. Corsi?
In a post-birth-certificate world, a pink-faced and spluttering Corsi is openly mocked on a Fox Business news show. But it was always impossible to read Where's the Birth Certificate? as any sort of serious text. Its inflammatory wording (the title of the introduction: "The Undocumented Worker in the Oval Office") is shrill, of course, but nowhere near as hysterical as Corsi's insinuation that a man was murdered to keep the truth covered up. It only gets more convoluted from there. Corsi's concern for Obama totters over into the creepy more often than not. Corsi complains, "Where are the Baby Pictures?" (Why the Capital Letters?) And one can't help but wonder what kind of unhealthy things the old author would do if presented with photos of an infant.
With the central thesis of the book so conclusively demolished before its publication, the only way you can really read Where's the Birth Certificate? is as a work of science fiction—a cynical imagining of an alternate-universe United States in which what began as a welfare scam ultimately led to a foreign-born president whose only goals are to demoralize and destroy the nation. It's a plot even Tom Clancy would dismiss as unrealistic. As far as sci-fi novels go, Corsi at least gets points for the unique structure of his book, scattering around shady facts and allegations, and allowing the reader to connect the dots. Because Corsi doesn't have any facts, he makes the reader do his dirty work, coauthoring the crimes with the arch-villainous president.
The thing about reading one right-wing book as a work of science fiction is that it becomes addicting. After Where's the Birth Certificate? (here!), I decided to read Ron Paul's Liberty Defined as though Paul were a Kilgore Trout–esque author of dime-store genre fiction, and the resulting book was hilariously illuminating. Paul cuts a pathetic figure with his authorial voice—he's a bitter, huffy know-it-all, like a washed-up professor in a shiny toupee trying to crash a frat-house kegger.
Only someone as tired and on the wane as Ron Paul in 2011 could believe in a fictional universe in which homeschooling is the ideal educational model, racial discrimination can be resolved by the market, and the government is required to keep its hands off citizens in every case except abortion (which Paul believes should be illegal for some reason that involves religion). Like Orwell and Huxley, Paul paints a terrifying world. Unlike the two dead authors, Paul's prose is ponderous and dull.
Conservative internet mogul Andrew Breitbart's science fiction in Righteous Indignation is more subtle than the hellish landscape Paul sketches (although to be fair, a sledgehammer to the jaw would be more subtle than Paul's masturbatory blather). Breitbart specializes in military fiction, framing everything in a warlike context:
The constellation of AM talk radio, the Internet (Drudge Report, plus countless bloggers), and Fox News represent the successful, better-late-than-never counterattack against the left's unchallenged control of the culture of a center-right nation. And this counterattack needs field generals, platoon leaders, and foot soldiers ready to storm every hill on the battlefield. To not yield an inch of ground to the ruthless, relentless, shameless enemy we face.
Breitbart resembles no author so much as Harry Turtledove, the military fiction novelist who chooses specific historical pivot points from which to launch entire alternate universes. (What if the South won the Civil War? What if the Japanese seized Hawaii during World War II?) But Breitbart casts himself as a hero in this war ("I have risen through the ranks and now find myself on the front lines...") and chooses a most peculiar pivot point for the genesis of his sci-fi narrative. It's—wait for it—the Clarence Thomas hearings.
Breitbart describes himself as a liberal until the hearings, which for some reason inflamed his sensibilities enough to transform him into a conservative forevermore. That he chooses such a bizarre crossing point is obviously an error. Thomas, who rarely can be bothered to comment or even ask questions about cases before him, is at best an unexceptional justice and at worst an ethically corrupt one, considering his wife's dubious ties to the teabagger movement. Why does Breitbart cast as a conservative champion a man who barely can be trusted to show up for work on time? And why is the second biggest moment in Breitbart's life the moment when Matt Drudge broke the story of the Monica Lewinsky scandal? Get a load of this prose: "It was a triumph for the truth-seeker... Clinton's carefully crafted media defense was going down, and Drudge was dismantling it as brilliantly as anyone in media history."
Breitbart crafts a universe where trivia is paramount and important events are ignored. Dan Savage's essay about licking doorknobs at Gary Bauer's campaign headquarters exhibits "the vicious actions of a perverse, degraded, and disgusting human being," but George W. Bush's WMD lies and the tanking of America's economy warrant nary a mention. Here is a man who believes the universe revolves around a penis and a judicial slacker, a gnome who huddles for warmth against the rapidly cooling minor victories of the past, even as he imagines himself diving forward into a roiling battle that has no bearing on how Americans actually live.
Breitbart's strange and petty Republican science-fictional world is emblematic of the entire genre: It's a fascinating place to visit—packed with chilling might-have-beens and cautionary guinea pigs who teach us by example how not to behave—but it bears no relation to the nuanced nation outside our windows.