Republican leaders have finally rebuked the paranoid loons in their midst. Kinda, sorta, and ever so timorously.

For lo these many months, the so-called "birthers" have been recycling the lie about how Barack Obama is supposedly an illegitimate president because he supposedly was not born on American soil in Hawaii. I won't bother explaining the birther "side" of this argument, because there is no argument; if you agree with the "birthers," take your tinfoil hat and leave now.

Suffice it to say that Hawaii officials, starting with the Republican governor, have repeatedly vouched for Obama; that Hawaii's health director, after having reviewed "the original vital records maintained on file," publicly declared earlier this week that Obama was born in Honolulu - thereby repeating what she said publicly nine months ago. John McCain's campaign looked into this faux issue and found nothing. Obama's opponent in the '04 Senate campaign looked as well and found nothing; as GOP operative Bill Pascoe wrote two days ago, "I can attest to the fact that nowhere in our opposition research (in 2004) did we find any reason to believe that the man was not a natural born citizen of the United States."

So what's most noteworthy about this irrelevant contretemps is the passive posture of the Republican leaders, who have done virtually squat to distance the party from the fruitcakes on the right-wing fringe. Which is tantamount to indulging them.

Granted, the leaders are in a somewhat tricky position, because some of these "birthers" actually sit in Congress as elected Republicans. Ten GOP House members are currently sponsoring a bill that would require all candidates to prove their place of birth, a symbolic slap at Obama, and Republican leaders have indulged these "birthers" by either remaining mute or implying sympathy. (Regarding the latter, here's Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe: "They have a point. I don't discourage it.") We also saw some high comedy three days ago, when the elected Republican "birthers" tried to block a routine House resolution extolling the half-century anniversary of Hawaii statehood...because the resolution proudly noted that one its native sons had risen to the presidency. Again, the Republican leaders said nothing.

On the contrary, a few party bigwigs - including House GOP whip Eric Cantor and national chairman Michael Steele - have actually "friended" Orly Taitz, the leader of the so-called movement, on her Facebook page. These Republican leaders insist that their friending of Taitz does not constitute an endorsement of Taitz. Whatever. Let us merely note that their friending of Taitz has provided Taitz with a terrific PR opportunity; as she wrote on her blog earlier this week, "To me, (being friended) means that the leadership of the Republican party understands the importance of the issues...of Obama's illegitimacy." And that may well inspire more "birthers" to ambush Republican congressmen at town hall meetings - as happened earlier this month to Delaware Rep. Michael Castle. (When he vouched for Obama's citizenry, he was booed. The incident wound up on YouTube and has drawn more than half a million hits.)

Yesterday, however, one Republican leaders did try to exhibit at least a smidgen of spine. Finally. At a breakfast with reporters, House leader John Boehner was asked to comment on the so-called issue; in response, he said: "My focus is on trying to get this economy moving again, stopping (Democratic) efforts on a national energy tax and stopping their government takeover of the health care system. I know there are a lot of issues that are out there, but that's where my focus is." And when asked whether he had any reason to suspect that Obama was not born on American soil, he replied: "No."

Meanwhile, in a separate statement, party chairman Michael Steele, the Facebook friend, said he "believes" that Obama is a U.S. citizen, and that the so-called issue "is an unnecessary distraction."

Perhaps these guys could have gone a tad further - by declaring, for instance, that the fringe attempt to paint Obama as illegitimate is a poisonous exercise that further polarizes the discourse and the electorate. At the very least, it would serve their own interests, as Republicans, to distance the party from this nativistic bid to depict the first black president as The Other.

Apparently they are too cowed, or ill-principled, to take those steps. And that leaves the sane conservatives with a big problem, as strategist Bill Pascoe noted the other day: "We are being lumped in with irresponsible and unreasonable conspiracy theorists...Seriously. Is this anything but a gift to the Democrats?"

And right now, given all the health care travails on Capitol Hill, the Democrats could use a gift.


Why this country is barely governable, chapter 30,000:

What follows is real. President Obama is having a beer tonight with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt.  James Crowley. But a flap has developed over what kind of beer should be served. Gates wants to drink Red Stripe. Crowley wants to drink Blue Moon. Obama intends to drink Bud Light. But one domestic beer-maker is upset with Obama because Bud Light's corporate parent is not based in America (nor are the makers of Red Stripe or Blue Moon), and therefore insists that Obama should be serving something that's all-American, like Sam Adams. What a quandary!

Personally, I don't think that any domestic beer should be served until each and every brewery worker produces an American birth certificate.