So that’s what the president was talking about.
“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” President Obama said at the conclusion of his much-discussed birth-certificate news conference on Wednesday, the day before he oversaw a final national security meeting to weigh an ultimately fatal raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. “We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve. And I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them — not on this.”
After the birthers and their boosters enjoyed a brief presidential platform, they have suffered a severe fall in the wake of the historic mission in Pakistan. The White House insists that “zero” political calculation went into the timing of the birth-certificate news conference and that the administration released the certificate the day after they got it. Coincidental or not, the succession of announcements resulted in a stark contrast: a president concerned with high-stakes national security issues and political opponents preoccupied with a 50-year-old hospital form.
“The contrast is a good one,” said Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat tasked with his party’s political messaging in the Senate. “It serves the president well.”
It was an advantage that some Republicans couldn’t help but notice.
“While some Republicans were talking about Obama’s birth certificate, Obama was preparing bin Laden’s death certificate,” said Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, who has never entertained the birther conspiracies and gave the president credit for facing existential threats while some in his party were “going off the rails.”
“Those issues go away now and hopefully the debate will go to a higher level,” King said.
At least in the immediate aftermath of the raid in Abbottabad and the burial of bin Laden in the North Arabian Sea, the loudest doubters of Obama’s citizenship and patriotism were keeping their voices down.
Donald Trump, the real-estate magnate and reality-show personality who seemed to be among those Obama had in mind when he bemoaned “carnival barkers” during his birth-certificate news conference, offered an uncharacteristic truce. “I want to personally congratulate President Obama and the men and women of the Armed Forces for a job well done,” Trump said Monday in a statement.
In declining a request for further comment, Michael Cohen, a top aide to Trump, said: “What he’d like to do is ask you, the media, to respect what he wrote. He is going to take the next couple days off.” Cohen then sought to distance Trump from the birth-certificate subject — his boss’s signature issue — contending that “the media has put him into the issue of the birther scenario.”
Cohen bristled at King’s suggestion that the killing of the al-Qaeda leader had reminded the country about important issues and candidates — in short, those not usually associated with Trump — and that as a result, Trump had become relegated back to the sideshow. “Why don’t they wait until the next poll?” asked Cohen, adding emphatically: “He’ll be back. Mr. Trump will be back!”
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who after the birth-certificate news conference congratulated Trump on Twitter for forcing the issue, restricted her posts to gratitude for the military. Michele Bachmann, the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, potential presidential candidate and frequent trafficker in birther conspiracy, declined an interview request.
Donna Brazile, a Democratic political consultant who last month served as the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, doubted the permanence of such restraint. She blamed Republican leaders for allowing the fringes and publicity hounds into the mainstream.
“Once you give them the microphone, they love the sound of their voice, and they are not going to give it back,” she said. “They are going to be part of 2012. They have made a political calculation that this is what keeps them relevant.”
Brazile accused the media of amplifying the conspiracy for ratings and clicks. She wondered whether the president, in his remarks at the birth-certificate news conference, wasn’t preparing the nation for actual news to come.
“Perhaps the president understood this would be the serious conversation,” she said. “So he had to get the silly stuff off the table.”
But at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which occurred a day after Obama issued the green light for the Navy SEAL operation, the president made sure to keep the silly stuff fresh for just a little bit longer.
While he laughed heartily at guest comedian Seth Meyers’s joke about bin Laden’s unknown whereabouts, his own routine consisted largely of a riff on the birther conspiracy, at the expense of his potential challengers in the Republican opposition.
He suggested that Bachmann was born in Canada and quipped, “This is how it starts.” He joked that fluent Mandarin speaker and former Chinese ambassador Jon Huntsman “learned English to come here.”
And he mocked Trump, the eager birther-enabler, most of all. Obama said that the “Celebrity Apprentice” host deserved credit for making the tough decisions, like firing Gary Busey over Lil Jon and Meat Loaf.
“There are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night,” Obama said.
The next night, he again appeared on television, to announce bin Laden’s death.