WASHINGTON — Now the big question is how many Americans will reject the official birth record proving that Barack Obama was born in the USA and still insist on believing — despite every fact in evidence — that he was born in a foreign land and thus not eligible under the Constitution to be president? Some fringe of the nation’s population almost surely will never be convinced, analysts said, but Obama evidently felt enough pressure to try to take the issue off the table after letting it fester for more than two years.
On Wednesday the president released the long-form version of his Hawaii birth certificate. His lawyer formally requested two certified copies on April 22 and picked them up Tuesday.
“Yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital,” Obama said in the White House briefing room, looking somewhat incredulous to be making such a statement. Hawaiian officials, a short-form official birth certificate, local newspaper reports of his birth and fact-checking expeditions by news media long ago had confirmed his Hawaiian birth, but some conservative politicians and media commentators refused to accept it.
“Normally, I would not comment on something like this,” Obama said, but he said he felt compelled to try to put the issue to rest once and for all after questions about his birth certificate drowned out news coverage of the deficit crisis.
“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” the president said. “We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”
It was a weird controversy to dog a president who's mired in military conflicts in three Muslim lands as the Arab world writhes in turmoil and the U.S. economy remains shaky, but it wouldn’t go away. A USA Today poll released this week found that just 38 percent of Americans believed that Obama definitely was born in the United States.
Analysts disagreed over the episode’s political significance.
Aides to the president denied that Obama feared that the controversy could hurt his re-election bid. Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director said it was “probably in his long-term political interests to allow this ‘birther’ debate to dominate discussion in the Republican Party for months to come. But he thought, even though it might have been good politics, he thought it was bad for the country.”
However Dan Schnur, a former Republican consultant who now directs the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics, said that explanation seemed hollow: “As long as it made Obama’s critics look like extremists, they were happy to let the issue rage. Whether it’s driven by Donald Trump or mainstream media coverage or a combination of both, the number of Americans who are uncertain about his birth status has been growing. The White House would never have taken this step if they didn’t think it was hurting the president politically.”
By putting the new documentation out there, Schnur said, “in the long run it gets a growing problem out of the way.”
Maybe. Perhaps Obama gained credibility with some. But then again, maybe he just spun the story’s news cycle another round.
Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian, said Obama’s aides might think that “for at least a moderate voter it will reiterate the argument that some people in the Republican Party are real extremists” and “here’s the president being the responsible figure and revealing what the opposition is all about.”
But Zelizer isn’t convinced that the president's move was wise.
“The smart thing would have been to continue to ignore it, or deal with it back during the campaign,” he said. “Doing it now was a bit odd. The supporters of Obama will say, ‘Why are you caving in to this kind of debate?’ and the opportunists will probably just use it somehow to say is he up to something.
“In the end, the birthers will continue to raise questions about this document.”
Did all the squawking over the president's place of birth overwhelm public debate on serious subjects? That’s a matter of interpretation.
A weekly news analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that coverage of Obama’s birthplace composed less than 3 percent of the news the week of April 18-24.
However, Trump, the TV-celebrity businessman who’s relishing tons of free news coverage for sounding off about politics, was the second leading newsmaker last week, behind only the president. And Trump focused a lot on questioning Obama’s birthplace. Deficit-related coverage, meanwhile, sank last week to only 8 percent of news.
Whatever the president's reason for finally issuing his birth certificate, it provided an extraordinary morning of political theater for the nation’s first African-American president. During the 2008 campaign, Obama released a short-form certificate of live birth, which Hawaii treats as the legal version of a birth certificate. State officials confirmed the document’s legitimacy.
Getting the state to release the long-form version was more complicated. The president and his lawyers had to write to the state to seek a waiver to release it. Obama’s personal attorney Judith Corley flew to Hawaii to bring back two certified copies herself, returning Tuesday evening.
One copy was on display Wednesday in White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s office, while the other remained in the custody of White House Counsel Bob Bauer.
Trump, speaking before TV cameras in New Hampshire, said he was "really proud" to have forced the president to produce the information, and that Obama should have done so "a long time ago." Trump also said "I'd want to look at it" before accepting the document’s legitimacy, but added that he hopes to move on to more important issues.
Schnur said the birth certificate “actually may remove a potential headache for the more establishment Republican candidates. They don’t have to worry about whether or not to appease the skeptics on this anymore. This puts the birthers back in the category of the truthers. Someone who still believes Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii becomes the equivalent of someone who believes George Bush ordered planes to be flown into the World Trade Center.”
PRESIDENT OBAMA'S BIRTH CERTIFICATE
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