I'm not an English native speaker and have no idea what is the meaning of this sentence:

"If you can't beat members of the "birther" movement, join 'em."

Could someone give me an explanation?

  • Hi. We don't all know about this organisation. It would help if you explained who they are. Especially useful would be some indication of where you heard/read this. Do you have a link? Thanks. Jul 25, 2015 at 23:00
  • 1
    You might be more comfortable at the English Language Learners StackExchange (ell.stackexchange.com). It's a modification of the idiom "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" which means that if you can't defeat your opponents, well, you might as well side with them. (See here and here).
    – Amory
    Jul 25, 2015 at 23:01
  • @chaslyfromUK All you need to do is type birther movement in Google. This Wiki entry will tell you all about it.
    – WS2
    Jul 25, 2015 at 23:03
  • @chaslyfromUK A "birther" in the US is someone who erroneously believes that President Obama is not a natural born citizen of the United States (language from the Constitution) and was thus not eligible to be elected.
    – Amory
    Jul 25, 2015 at 23:03
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    Thanks to Amory and WS2 - I appreciate it. In fact I did Google it before commenting. My point is that it's the responsibility of the asker to do at least a little research and to pass it on to potential answerers. Jul 25, 2015 at 23:23

3 Answers 3


"Birthers" are those in the U.S. who believe President Obama was born in Kenya or some place other than the United States. They do not accept the validity of his Hawaiian birth certificate.

The expression, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," means that you've tried to work against a particular group or movement with no success, so you might as well give up and join up with them.

All that said, in the U.S. the "Birthers" have had no credibility for many years, so I'm not sure what the circumstances would be under which you'd be moved to join 'em.

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    I disagree. In this sense "join 'em" means create your own opposing "birther" myth. Eg, John McCain was (actual fact) not born in the US. And I once heard a rumor that Donald Trump was actually born in Mexico.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 26, 2015 at 3:23
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    Sorry, I don't agree with your interpretation of the expression. "Join 'em" doesn't mean create your own position; it means give up your position and accept theirs. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/if_you_can%27t_beat_them,_join_them
    – ewormuth
    Jul 26, 2015 at 3:28
  • @HotLicks Mitt Romney's father was born in Mexico, maybe that's the one you're thinking of.
    – Random832
    Jul 26, 2015 at 4:57
  • "Join 'em" (in the idiom) means to do what they're doing. Not necessarily to ally with them. And I said that it was a rumor that Donald Trump was born in Mexico.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 26, 2015 at 12:26
  • @HotLicks, I do understand what you're saying, but in the expression itself (and the explanations offered around the web) I don't see the sense of subversiveness that you're suggesting. I get it, though.
    – ewormuth
    Jul 26, 2015 at 15:46

In this context Birthers are likely to be people who do not believe that Barack Obama was born in the U.S.A. They believe the Hawaiian birth certificate he produced in response to their claims, is a forgery and maintain the opinion that he was born somewhere else. This is important because The U.S. Constitution requires the President to be a "natural born citizen." Their opponents believe they are crazy conspiracy theorists who refuse to accept facts.

This seemingly trivial matter can be extremely important because the U.S. Constitution effectively overrides all other laws in the U.S.A. If they are right, Barack Obama may not have ever been considered President, which is important for several reasons:

The first reason is that all of the actions he made under that authority may hypothetically be considered "unconstitutional" and hence, legally null and void. The practice of scrutinizing over constitutional validity of laws was first considered and thought to be established by The Supreme Court in Marbury vs. Madison but anticipated by the critics of The U.S. Constitution and explained by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 78, prior to its ratification and is corroborated by The Supremacy Clause's prioritization of law.

The second reason is that Barack Obama would have to be somehow replaced. I do not remember if The Constitution provides clear guidelines on how to replace a President who was never qualified to run and ended up serving regardless, so settling the matter could be a chaotic mess.

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em", in its most literal sense, means if you can not defeat the people you oppose in a conflict, you should join up with them at least to either share in their success or avoid personal harm, if not both. This type of sentiment is very unamerican according to Sir Patrick Henry but that is not the main point. In the case of debate, beating 'em would be proving your point or disproving the other debater's claims. In this case, Birthers believe they have provided the better evidence or at least that the alleged absence of what they consider sufficient evidence is alarming and hence deserve the spoils of war, so to speak.

The validity of this sentiment is questionable by the standards of formal logic. I would discuss further, however this is neither the time or the place for that.


"Who Are the Birthers?" By Brian Montopoli for C.B.S. News ~ July 23, 2009

The U.S. Constitution Article II, Section 1, Clause 5, regarding presidential qualifications and Article VI, also known as the Supremacy Clause.

Unconstitutional ~ The American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster in 1828

Alex McBride writing for K.Q.E.D. on Madison vs. Marbury in December 2006

The Yale Law School Lillian Goldman's Library's Avalon Project: Transcript of Federalist No. 78. and (jokingly) Sir Patrick Henry's Call to Arms.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online's Entry for "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

  • I very much doubt that Patrick Henry was ever knighted.
    – phoog
    Jul 26, 2015 at 5:42
  • @phoog Although I could guess, I must admit that I do not know why Sir P. Henry is often referred to as Sir (end of article) but that does not change the fact that he is often referred to as as Sir. Given that he is such a respectable man, I'd rather err on the side of caution, as it'd be an utter shame to discredit him and he can only honor the ranks of any grouping of Sirs in the case of a mistake.
    – Tonepoet
    Jul 26, 2015 at 11:55
  • @Tonepoet It can't be that often, since this is the first I've heard of it in the probably 40 years since I first heard of Patrick Henry. Anyway, since Patrick Henry put his life on the line for a cause that, among other achievements, abolished such titles, I rather suspect that applying one to him would cause him to turn in his grave.
    – phoog
    Jul 27, 2015 at 19:04

The birther movement refers to denying that Barack Obama was born in the United States and that he therefore became president in violation of the requirements of the US Constitution.

  • birther - (slang, pejorative, US politics) A believer that President Barack Obama is not a "natural born" citizen of the United States, and therefore ineligible for the presidency.

So, if you can't beat them (do away with them), simply join them. It's that kind of philosophy that tries to give you only two choices:

  • Love it or leave it.

  • Either you are with us or you are against us.

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