Then why'd it drag on so long?
By Daniel M. Ryan
By releasing a PDF copy of his long-form birth certificate last Wednesday, President Obama hoped to kill two birds with one stone. The most visible bird was Donald Trump. He championing birth-certificate sceptics helped bring the issue from the backwoods right into the public square. Needless to say, he's gotten himself a lot of support for being outspoken enough to do so. If Mr. Trump has any political gift, it's the art of taking positions that are supposed to be disreputable and bringing them front and centre. Needless to say, this gift isn't one of rhetorical genius or exceptional political shrewdness. It's status-lending.
Trump's a man of high status who's lending his status to those who have little, or who've lost what status they had, by expressing opinions that cross orthodoxies. The Republican leadership, being less self-assured, hasn't touched the issue. They letting it fester is what made potential candidate Trump a hot property.
Most people are naturally conservative in the sense that they don't like to be bothered by opinions that suggest something's deeply wrong with the system. Birtherism, the claim that President Obama got elected to the Presidency despite he being disqualified to serve by the U.S. Constitution, is one of those disturbing opinions. Hence, the widespread claim that Obama hit one out of the park when he released the copy of the long-form certificate. The subtext is, another disturbing idea has been scotched and laid to rest. Americans need be disturbed no more.
The second bird was one that Obama's advisors were likely more worried about. Donald Trump is a proven winner in the rarefied arena of celebrity businesspeople, but Jerome Corsi is a proven winner in the arena of conservative activism. Dr. Corsi was the editor of the 2004 book Unfit For Command, which exposed John Kerry as an embellisher of his war record. Being the chief "Swift Boater," he may have swung the election George W. Bush's way. Political junkies have good reason to suspect that President Obama was really gunning for Dr. Corsi: the latter's a proven winner in election-influencing.
Needless to say, neither target has backed down. Despite his reputation for outspokenness, Mr. Trump has been more careful than his public image lets on. He can claim credibly that he was questioning Obama and demanding answers, as he implied when he congratulated himself for getting President Obama to release the certificate. The bird that's suffered more damage is Dr. Corsi. Although his book Where's The Birth Certificate? hasn't been released yet, it's been advertised as he saying that Obama is not eligible to serve as President. Unless he had a trick up his sleeve, he's been manoeuvred into the same corner occupied by the people who still claim that President Roosevelt's gold seizure was unconstitutional. They may be right, but they're irrelevant. The signature of Hawaii's State Registrar is enough to make the certificate pass muster in any American court of law. As the Brits say, the fix is in; best not to dredge the mire.
Mr. Trump, of course, hasn't given up. Showing a fair bit of bulldoggedness, he's now demanding President Obama release his college transcripts. Trump doing so has opened him up to liberal knee-jerk claims of 'racism.' A thinking person would remember Mr. Trump manoeuvring the birth certificate out into the open, and conclude that he wants to see if Obama lied about being foreign-born. Obama doing so would not make him ineligible to serve as President, but it would show that he didn't have much regard for the truth when untruth gets him a leg up. In short, it would show he's a bit of a weasel.
What's Kept The Birther Issue Going So Long, So Strong
In a nutshell, it's because Obama's habit of concealment makes him look like he has something to hide. He's been acting like a defendant that seems a little too fond of the Fifth Amendment. Granted than many invokers are in fact innocent, but common sense says that someone who treats the Fifth Amendment like an old friend has done something to incriminate him- or herself. Had President Obama been the CEO of a public company, the same people who are attacking the birthers for lèse majeste would be proclaiming that said CEO was "obviously guilty" of a serious crime.
Fact is, President Obama's unusual insistence upon his privacy rights was precisely why the birther movement didn't die with the Hillary Clinton campaign. Public figures are treated differently in American libel law because they're in the spotlight, and their renown shields them from most libels. Analogously, public figures in politics are held to transparency standards that ordinary citizens aren't expected to uphold. Greater power entails greater responsibilities, and transparency is one of the responsibilities. By necessity, the President of the United States is a public figure. President Obama insisting on his privacy rights, as if he were a mere private citizen of little fame, does look odd. That oddness makes plausible the claim that he has something to hide. There were a crop of para-birthers who believed that his birth certificate contained some embarrassing personal revelation, like his real birth father being Frank Marshall Davis.
Obama's continued insistence is what keeps Donald Trump going like the Energizer bunny. Through concealment, President Obama had made Donald Trump a viable candidate. In a very definite way, Donald the Populist is a monster that Obama himself created. Releasing the transcripts won't fluster Trump at all, as he can claim again that he was the one to force President Obama to disclose. To borrow another Britishism, all President Obama has done is encourage Mr. Trump.
And What If Obama Really Has Nothing To Hide?
If there really are no skeletons in President Obama's closet, if his concealment is solely due to exaggerated privacy needs, then the whole episode shows a President that's nursing a real stubborn streak. There's no reasonable policy justification for Obama to conceal records from his past; those records have nothing to do with his policies. His insistence does speak to his character, though. Americans have put up with orneriness from Presidents, but I know of no case where an American president was tolerated for being just plain stubborn. There's an unspoken consensus that a stubborn President messes up his job performance, and perhaps demeans the office of the Presidency. If Obama ends up proving he has no dark secrets from his past, he won't vindicate himself. He'll only have shown that he confused the donkey with the mule.