Chatter about where President Obama was born is suddenly back in the headlines, echoing through the halls of Congress and the newsrooms of cable channels. Earlier this year, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said it wasn't his responsibility to tell Americans what to think about the so-called "birther" controversy that posits that the president isn't a natural-born citizen of the United States. And Donald Trump has been telling anyone who will listen that he thinks Obama is hiding something about the origins of his birth and might have been born in Kenya.
All this political hot air has gotten under the skin of Kevin Kline, who stars in "The Conspirator" — a cinematic retelling of an actual conspiracy, this one surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. "It's ludicrous. It's embarrassing," the veteran actor told MTV News. "This country is so polarized and our leaders in Washington are so polarized. How can the nation come together when the paradigm that is presented to us — our models, the men that we're meant to look up to — are playing such a ridiculous competition?
"When the Speaker of the House says, 'I'm not saying that I think Obama is not an American citizen, but I can't tell others' — that is craven and petty," Kline added. "It's all about spin and 'let's keep the polarization because we want to be in office in 2012.' What about the good of the people?"
Putting the good of the people and the health of the country ahead of short-term political gamesmanship is at the core of "The Conspirator," the latest directorial effort from Robert Redford. Kline plays Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who pushes for a military tribunal — rather than a civilian trial — to try a suspect in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. The allusions to the country's post-9/11 treatment of detainees is impossible to ignore, all the more so because much of Stanton's dialogue feels like it could have been uttered by a Bush administration official just a few years ago. Now, like then, what gets lost in the rush to convict and the attempt to heal emotional wounds, Kline said, is "our common humanity." What we're left with is two sides mindlessly butting heads. "North against South, Republican against Democrat," he added. "Blue against Red, my high school against your high school.
"We're all subject to the time we live in, and in moments of stress and chaos — at the end of the Civil War or post-9/11 — people are not always at their most rational or their most just or their most evenhanded," Kline maintained. "That's why we have things in place, like our judicial system, like our Constitution. We need those rules and strictures because we are human."
What do you think about the Obama "birther" controversy and Kline's opinions about it? Share your thoughts in the comments.