President Barack Obama released his full birth certificate today, after about two-and-one-half years of steadily increasing demands. Donald Trump, who jumped into the debate about a month ago, is taking credit for forcing the release, and the timing is suggestive.
Well, there are two questions to raise. Is the release a good thing for American presidential politics? Will this end the debate?
As to the first question, I am not at all sure this is a good thing for anyone.
The house is on fire and we are arguing a rather obscure constitutional point. This case has interested me since august 2008 and I have been in many different minds over the course of the following months. A couple of things are clear to me. One is that natural born citizenship law is convoluted and has not been fully adjudicated. I think this is because most Americans don’t really care where someone is born, they care whether they are here legally and whether they consider themselves American and want to contribute. I think Mr. Obama can be criticised for his vision of what America means, but I don’t think most Americans pay much attention to details of birth. Note that according to a recent poll about two-thirds were not convinced he was born in the U.S., but there were no serious calls for his resignation.
After all, President Obama is 12th in a line of men whose presidencies or candidacies have been challenged on citizenship grounds and yet the issue has never been fully settled. States have been reluctant to put proof of citizenship requirements into their balloting laws. The citizenship challenges go back to about 1881 yet the issue is not yet settled. Many, if not most, experts seem to believe birth on US soil constitutes “natural born citizenship.” But others argue that it takes two American parents and birth on US soil. Where they get that argument I am not certain.
Philip Berg, who got the ball rolling, argued that Mr. Obama held dual citizenship at birth and was adopted by his Indonesian uncle. This would, arguably, provided dual citizenship and a theoretical bar to the presidency. That point is where the lawyers come in and I don’t know where the ball would end up. I am reasonably sure most people don’t care that much. That is also a problem because Americans should care about constitutional provisions and be certain they are clear and well followed.
The bottom line is we are definitely at risk of losing focus and not fighting the fire while we debate citizenship. That is not good.
As for the second question. It is also a toss-up whether the issue is finally dead.
There are already those looking at minutiae and making a lot out of a quote from a Hawaiian official. She described the original as half-typed and half-handwritten. I wouldn’t use those words to describe what was released today. One commenter on a blog was suspicious becasue the date stamp reads 4/25/11. Of course it does, that was the date it was released and the affirmation of legitimacy. So, doubts will of course remain. Will they have legs, probably not. Joseph Farah is sounding defiant and unrepentant and trumpeting the Jerome Corsi book which he is publishing. He expects to sell a million copies.
Most people will, I suspect, accept the released document and move on to other issues of other debates. The president’s critics have long argued that the birth certificate was only one issue. Some resent the entire focus on the birth certificate and lament the fact that claims that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya (which were always far-fetched) were made to overshadow the larger question of transparency and his meager available public record.
I suspect the White House will try to argue that since the certificate has been released all questions are put to bed. They aren’t, but it is an open question how the public will respond. The public may decide that since there has been a two year fuss over essentially nothing there is probably nothing hidden in the other unreleased records either. But maybe not.
Trump’s position in this is interesting. Does he set himself the goal of getting to all of the president’s records, demolishing the brick wall of Mr. Obama’s transparency brick-by-brick? Or does he see himself as the loser here because he got what he wanted. Paradox Alert. That, incidentally, is the view of some folks who feel Trump made a fool of himself by pursuing this. Others in the mainstream press are now branding Trump as a loser. This to me is evidence of the skewed views of the media. Mr. Obama sat on the document for two years and more. Trump asked to see it and within days it was released. I don’t see that as making Trump a fool or a loss for Sir Donald.
The president still has a huge problem and there are four parts:
– He lies as baldly and brazenly as any other politician ever has, perhaps more. Remember all of his broken campaign promises (noted recently: his pledges on African American unemployment). He can look into a camera and smile and lie just as well as any other politician. That is at the core of the nation’s problem. He is not alone in that.
– He is as transparent as a brick wall. The BC took two years. Good luck on getting the transcripts.
– He is devious. If you doubt it, remember how the “health reform bill” passed. Reconciliation, anyone? Today he made it seem like Trump was causing the problem when he in fact delayed release of the certificate for no reason. Disingenuousness, anyone?
– Finally, he is every bit the lawyer Bill Clinton was. Talk about someone who can see shades of nuance in the definition of “is!”
Taken together these four problems color the public’s view. They aren’t going away and will be seen in the context of the 2.5 years it took to force this document into public view.
I don’t believe I have too much crow to eat on this one. But I will take a slice or two because I have followed it avidly and even talked to a friend or two about it. I have a tin foil hat like everyone else, but mine comes off.
One question I have is why did this take two years?
I suspect it is the President’s stubborness and ego on display. For whatever reason he didn’t want to release it and wouldn’t until well beyond the point someone else would have.
The other interesting thing to note is that this entire affray was lawyer-driven. I’ve noted the president is a lawyer and may have stone-walled for lawyerly reasons. Lawyers are averse to handing over any document at any time to an opposing attorney unless they have to.
On the opposing side it was lawyers all the way down. Lawyers have a peculiar place in our society and if their rantings are in good legal language, stone-crazy talk can sound persuasive. They have what most people feel is an intellectual cast to their writing and seem a form of authority figure. So, Bergs lawsuit, which so far is a non-starter, allowed people with any form of doubt about president Obama’s fitness for office a way to channel their feelings with a sense of authority behind them. The whole thing would have gone nowhere had it not been the subject of a federal lawsuit. Legal writing also attracts lots of people who become ten-penny experts on citizenship, standing, the Constitution and other issues. No self-styled “expert” could have pushed this as far without the Bergs of the world. People somehow don’t see lawyers as cranks.
Finally, a Lt. Col. with a good medical and military record went to prison over this. Since there appears to have been no good reason to conceal this document I expect some outcry over the treatment of the colonel. President Obama should pardon and reinstate him because his tardiness in releasing this document wrecked an honorable soldier’s career.