Politics often presents us with strange ironies, and the absurd birther conspiracy meant to discredit President Obama gives us a doozy. It was the existence of literacy tests for voters that kept African-Americans effectively disenfranchised in southern states until the 1960s. And yet, the persistent lie that the nation’s first (half) African-American president was not really born in the United States is a pretty solid argument for some kind of test—perhaps just one of simple common sense—for voters.
Despite having long ago released documentation that he was indeed born in Hawaii, Obama Wednesday released yet another document—a longer-form version of his birth certificate—proving what was already proven. It was a supremely undignified concession by a very dignified man, and it’s a sorry comment on the state of politics and the media in our Misinformation Age that the president felt he had to do it.
But the demand for and release of the document doesn’t really say that much about Obama. Unfortunately, it says some pretty unattractive things about some of the rest of us.
There’s the almost clinically self-absorbed Donald Trump, could-be candidate for president, who pronounced himself "proud" and "honored" to have been part of the effort to make Obama prove he isn’t a fraud. Not that Trump’s demand had much to do with Obama, anyway; like much of Trump’s self-promotion machine, the birth certificate campaign was all about Trump. [Vote now: Will Trump seriously run for president?]
Then there are the establishment Republicans, who haven’t come out and said they believe the birthers, but certainly have appeased them enough to keep from alienating a potentially powerful part of the base. Witness the remarks of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus:
The president ought to spend his time getting serious about repairing our economy," Priebus said. "Unfortunately, his campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him from our number one priority—our economy.
You can’t have it both ways, encouraging the "distraction" and then castigating Obama for trying to dispense with it. Talk about blaming the victim. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP 2012 candidates.]
Most embarrassing is how this makes the United States look to the rest of the world. When Obama was elected, it was a sign—even for those who don’t like his policies—that the United States was what it claimed to be: a place that celebrates equality of opportunity. It shut up those critics who noted that, while the United States lectured other countries about race relations, its own record wasn’t so impressive. The loud voice of the birther brigade, especially with the powerful media megaphone they have been given, merely reinforces the worst impressions foreigners have of this country. Obama made history with his election. It’s humiliating that some of his fellow citizens are still trying to deny it.
- Vote now: Will Trump seriously run for president?
- Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP 2012 candidates.
- Check out a roundup of political cartoons on Obama.
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