Science fiction writer Damon Knight once claimed that the popularity of conspiracy theories could be explained by our "desire to believe that there is some group of folks who know what they're doing."
Wishful thinking. And few "groups of folks" have displayed less aptitude in the art of keeping secrets than government.
Yet no matter who is in power, no matter how incompetent they may be, there always exists this irate minority that believes politicians possess supernatural powers of deception.
The mystery the nation faces isn't President Barack Obama's birth certificate. The mystery is how any American could believe that all the president's former political opponents, both the Republican and Democratic parties, Hawaiian officials and two Honolulu newspapers (nay, the entire press corps) could work in concert to conceal the biggest con of the eon.
Well, OK, not the biggest con.
There was George W. Bush, who, though often accused of possessing the brainpower of a ripe banana, was nevertheless also able to work on the complex North American Union agreement and mastermind an oily conspiracy for the ages.
According to a 2006 Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll, more than a third of the public suspects that Bush officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East.
As if we needed an excuse.
President Bill Clinton's long verifiable history of slimy behavior was also never enough to quench the anger of some. So we concocted the Don of Little Rock, who, though he wasn't shrewd enough to cover up a run-of-the-mill affair with a young intern, had the ability to surreptitiously run a cocaine trafficking outfit and knock off Vince Foster.
Those who peddle the Obama birth certificate conspiracy are squandering their chance at making any substantive case against an administration that is waging a completely non-secretive and non-conspiratorial battle against capitalism.
If you want to watch yourself in action, just take the time to find the video floating around on YouTube of Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del.
In a town hall meeting, Castle is accosted by a mob of ginned-up Republicans, clapping and hollering about Obama's non-citizenship and, finally, forcing the cowering congressman to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to display his loyalty.
If conservatives believe this kind of indulgence of lunacy is helpful, they are mistaken.
As former Clinton White House press secretary Jake Siewert explained to Politico early in the Obama presidency, "At some level, they're not that bad to have around because it reminds people that under the mainstream conservative press there's this bubbling up of really irrational hatred for the guy."
In a 378-0 vote Tuesday, the House passed a nonbinding resolution that asserts, in part, that "the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii."
Which, of course, only adds credence to the "birther" conspiracy.
It was reignited only recently, by populist CNN anchor Lou Dobbs. After taking a call from a listener on his radio show who claimed that Obama is a Kenyan, Dobbs replied, "Certainly your view can't be discounted."
Yes, it sure can be discounted. A "view," if you want to be taken seriously, needs to be buttressed by a fact or two, if at all possible.
Then again, this conspiracy movement, like others before it, should be placed in its proper context, which is to say, it never should be taken seriously.
I always think of the results of a poll conducted not too long ago in which we found out that a surprisingly large number of Americans believe it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that the U.S. government is "withholding proof of the existence of intelligent life from other planets."
Let's just say that with the dearth of that particular brand of life-form around here, maybe we should be hopeful that participants are correct.
We could use the help.