Behold the damage Donald Trump hath wrought. Every credible fact check has established that Barack Obama was born in this country. Yet on Wednesday, a reality TV show ringmaster forced the president of the United States to prove it.
By asking why President Obama had not released his long-form birth certificate on numerous so-called news shows, Trump had even usually sensible people theorizing over lunch as to why the White House had not released the document. Was there something damning about the president's religion? His race? His parentage?
My theory was simpler. In 2008, Obama released a certificate of live birth. Why did he wait until Wednesday to release the long-form, which birth deniers demanded? Easy. Who doesn't like watching his political enemies look like complete dolts? Obamaland no doubt felt a warm rush of satisfaction every time some nut job right-winger put forth a contorted theory about the president's 18-year-old mother running off to a Third World delivery room to give birth and then, Manchurian-like, falsifying the paperwork. The debate debased conservative opposition.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer confirmed as much when he admitted in a press gaggle that it was probably in Obama's "long-term political interests to allow this birther debate to dominate discussion in the Republican Party for months to come."
Obama chided the news media for rehashing the birther story, and he was right to do so. TV news networks were complicit in airing Trump's ridiculous personal queries -- and baldly false statements, such as the claim that Obama was born with the name "Barry Soetoro" (the last name of the man who became Obama's stepfather) -- because he generated buzz and ratings. But even before Trump, news reports had been flogging this sorry excuse of a story. Sunday news shows? They became opportunities to grill Republicans on the birth question and then overanalyze their answers. Then there were the poll stories.
Lo and behold, the percentage of people who believed Obama was not born in the United States kept rising. Most recently, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that only 38 percent of Americans thought Obama was "definitely" born in the United States. The media's obsession with this folly served to stoke public suspicion that where there is smoke, there must be fire.
ABC News' Jake Tapper hit Obama for dishonestly claiming that the White House had to release the long-form certificate because the "birther" story -- not Washington's budget wars -- was the "dominant news story" two weeks ago. Tapper cited a Project for Excellence in Journalism report that found the birther story had received "about one-tenth of the coverage devoted to stories about the economy" that week.
Though some have faulted the president for letting the huckster Trump outmaneuver him, I think the White House has used the situation to its advantage.
As the budget wars heat up, Obama has reminded the country how reckless, rabid and resistant to fact some of his critics are. The whole trick to winning elections is getting the voters to hate the other side more. This round goes to the kid from Honolulu.