The “birther” question had become a distraction, one that was getting in Obama’s way as he tried to sell the country on his approach to long-term deficit reduction.
On April 19, Obama ordered White House counsel Robert Bauer to find out what it would take to retrieve a longer and more detailed version of his Hawaiian birth certificate, a document not routinely released by state authorities.
That set into motion several days of intense, secret maneuvering that culminated in an extraordinary moment Wednesday. The president appeared in the White House briefing room with evidence that he had indeed been born in the United States, as the Constitution requires.
In a six-minute statement, Obama alternately poked fun at the “sideshows and carnival barkers” that had made such a declaration necessary and pleaded for the media and political world to focus on the serious challenges that face the nation.
“We do not have time for this silliness,” Obama said. “We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve.”
Some of the president’s conservative critics have pushed the theory that Obama, whose father was Kenyan, was born in Africa, as a way to question his constitutional legitimacy and even his basic American-ness. It is a falsehood that has gained remarkable currency. The most recent CBS/New York Times poll suggests that about a quarter of Americans believe it to be true. Among Republicans, 45 percent said they think Obama was not born in the United States.
The overall number has risen by five percentage points over the past year — driven largely by a 13-point uptick among Republicans. Among independents, the number has remained steady, around one-quarter.
Even before the White House procured a copy of the complete document and posted it on the Internet, there was ample evidence that Obama had indeed been born in Hawaii nearly two years after it became a state. During the 2008 campaign, he produced the standard version of his birth record, and newspaper birth announcements at the time corroborated it. Some 70 lawsuits challenging Obama’s birthplace have been dismissed by various courts.
Innuendo, of course, has always hung around backstage in politics — and the general rule has always been that the best way to handle it is to ignore it.
“Rumor travels faster,” the humorist Will Rogers observed nearly a century ago, “but it don’t stay put as long as truth.”
But today’s is a brutal, instantaneous media culture. Obama — the nation’s first African American president, and one who was raised in multicultural surroundings — has been the target of toxic, sometimes incongruous rumors.