Bowing to pressure from billionaire construction magnate, casino owner, reality star, and potential GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, the White House last week released what it says is the long-awaited long-form copy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
The discussion of the document was abridged, thanks to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Nevertheless, it infected even that bit of long-sought news. It’s not clear who was the first person to say it, but the Internet is replete with demands, made in jest, one believes, that the White House release bin Laden’s long-form death certificate.
It should come as no surprise that the birth certificate, which some allege is only page one of four, shows he was—as he and his supporters have repeatedly claimed—born in Hawaii, making him a natural born U.S. citizen eligible to hold the office of president of the United States.
There are those, like CBS anchor Bob Schieffer, who have suggested the whole discussion is tinged with racism. In some quarters, maybe. It’s perfectly understandable how someone who sees the world in terms of race could come to that conclusion, however imprecise it might be, given that Obama—with apologies to Bill Clinton—is the nation’s first black president. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP 2012 candidates.]
Nevertheless it’s true that Obama and his minions, similar to the late, unlamented Saddam Hussein, were acting like they had something to hide—in this case an embarrassing, perhaps disqualifying document rather than weapons of mass destruction. They raised and spent a lot of money trying to keep the document hidden from public view—and it was and is fair to ask why they did so.
Those people who never allow facts to get in the way fail to understand that Obama, in addition to being the nation’s first black president, is the most liberal in at least a generation. He has and wants to continue to expand the size and scope of the federal government, raise taxes, increase federal spending until it permanently consumes about 25 percent of U.S. GDP—up from the historical average of about 18 percent—and move the United States leftward until it is almost indistinguishable from the modern European-style welfare state.
A lot of people object to this, perhaps even more than a majority of the country. Some of those people saw the birth certificate issue not as a distraction but as a quick and easy way to have Obama removed from office, which would, in turn, derail his agenda for America.
By acting to suppress the long-form birth certificate, the White House fed the fears and paranoia of a political fringe movement rather than extinguished it. There are those who are not satisfied and who will never be satisfied until some document surfaces to prove that they are, in fact, right, and that the president is, to put it gently, lying. [Vote now: Will Trump seriously run for president?]
There’s another component to the story, though, one that has not been discussed all that much: the role the national political media played in keeping the issue alive.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the solons of truth and wisdom that pass for neutral observers of the American scene dismissed out of hand the idea that Obama had been born outside the United States, not on the basis of evidence but because of their own political biases. They like the man. They want to him succeed. They assume, sui generis, that his opponents are either kooks or, as Schieffer and others have helpfully explained, some kind of racists.
It is the obverse of a situation George W. Bush faced during his presidency. No, not the idea that he had advance warning of the 9/11 terror attack and did nothing to stop it; the idea that he failed to fulfill his commitment to the Texas Air National Guard by bugging out early.
The rumor dogged Bush for years. Some folks in the media, the mainstream media—not the fringe political press—believed the story and tried, without success, to prove it true. Every time documents were released in support of the idea that the story was false, the media’s reaction was something akin to “Yeah, yeah … Big deal. What we want are the documents that prove we’re right, that Bush failed to finish out his enlistment. When do we get those?”
The whole thing came to a head when CBS anchor Dan Rather, who, with his production team, went on the air with the story claiming documents had been uncovered proving Bush was a liar.
As we all know, those documents were quickly proved to be forgeries. Rather and several other important CBS personages lost their jobs or left the network, and Bush was vindicated—although there are still those who believe the story is true and that the forged documents were some kind of clever Republican “dirty trick” designed to put the story to rest forever. The Obama birth certificate story is in the same category, and, if the media had investigated rather that simply taken the word of the White House or a few Hawaiian bureaucrats, the whole thing never would have gotten as far as it did.
At day’s end, it’s hard to tell who should shoulder the greater degree of responsibility for making the “birther” issue a factor in U.S. politics: the people who ignited the fire or the folks who, by action and inaction, fanned the flames.