The news today that the White House has released a more detailed version of President Obama’s birth certificate was met with equal amounts of shock and incredulity.
The fact that the White House, after nearly three years of controversy over where the president was born, would finally choose to seek and release the document shows just how persistent political rumors can be. And how potent the political echo chamber is.
Why release the document now? And where does the controversy go from here?
Indeed, the release of the longer birth certificate is unlikely to sway the most strident doubters, who may simply believe that it is a forgery and will point to the fact that it is only being released years after questions were first raised. The document contains slightly more detail than the short form that Obama’s campaign released in 2008, but besides listing an attendant and a local registrar, there isn’t much new information to be mined.
Potential Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as expected, raised the development as proof of the impact of his push for the truth about where Obama was born. And to a certain degree, he’s right.
The sheer bravado of Trump’s campaign and the Trump name have brought new attention to the birther issue. While most serious Republican politicians have done their best to steer clear of it (without completely dismissing or irritating the birther crowd, mind you), it took a semi-serious celebrity politician to really force the issue.
And it both helps Trump and plays into the White House’s hands.
Today just happens to be a big day for Trump, who is on his first trip to New Hampshire. And releasing the birth certificate to coincide with that trip will only increase the attention paid to Trump. That isn’t entirely helpful to more serious Republican presidential candidates.
Trump has already weighed in, delivering a wholly characteristic reaction.
“Today, I’m very proud of myself, because I’ve been able to accomplish something that nobody else was able to accomplish,” Trump said.
The White House’s stated reason for attaining the document from Hawaii — it said it needed special permission — is that it wanted the country to move past the debate.
But Obama himself had suggested recently that the issue actually worked to his advantage. So it’s hard to see why his team would want put it to rest — especially with the Republican presidential campaign starting to ramp up and the issue more prominent than ever.
But if you look at the president’s statements at this morning’s press conference, you get an idea of why he decided now was the time.
The president expressed the need for the country to be able to have respectable debate about real issues.
“We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”
In other words, the issue only provided more division in American politics, and Obama badly wants to come off as a uniter. This is a message that has worked for him before and can continue to.
So while Obama may seem weak for finally succumbing to the pressure, he makes a strong play for voters in the middle — who are, by and large, not birthers — and comes off as the adult in the room.
Republicans, meanwhile, have to continue to deal with Trump and the controversy that he apparently won’t back away from any time soon. Trump said today that he’s still got questions, and you can bet those questions will continue to be part of the national dialogue.
Republicans, sensing that Obama may gain politically from the brouhaha, used the opportunity to accuse him of upping the ante even further in the debate — suggesting the release of the birth certificate was aimed at actually ramping up the controversy.
“The president ought to spend his time getting serious about repairing our economy, working with Republicans and focusing on the long term sustainability of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “Unfortunately, his campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him from our No. 1 priority — our economy.”
And very well may continue too.