The Birth Certificate Revealed: Why Now?

Posted: Apr 27, 2011 11:18 AM
By now, the whole world knows that the President of the United States held a live press conference to announce the release of his long-form birth certificate in an effort to silence a small, but persistent, band of conspiracy theorists.  What unfolded this morning may have been the strangest scene to play out in the White House press room since...well, this.   I, for one, am dismayed that such a performance was necessary in the first place.  This question has long been resolved, and I agree with the president that it was, and has continued to be, a major distraction from real issues.  I must confess I'm also relieved and hopeful.  Relieved that yet another piece of overwhelming evidence has been produced that eradicates any lingering doubts any reasonable person may have harbored; hopeful that at long last, this "issue" will die. 

President Obama was born in the United States.  He is, and has always been, a citizen of the United States.  Done. Over. Good night.

All that being said, I'm slightly perplexed by the timing of this revelation.  Why now?  The president has been hounded by silly questions over his birth certificate since at least 2007.  Despite providing significant evidence that Obama was indeed a natural born citizen, the Obama campaign -- and later the White House -- never released the much-discussed "long form" birth certificate.  Until today.  One of the reasons we've been given for the absence of this document was that it was literally illegal for Hawaii to release it:

A privacy law that shields birth certificates has prompted Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie to abandon efforts to dispel claims that President Barack Obama was born outside Hawaii, his office says.

State Attorney General David Louie told the governor that privacy laws bar him from disclosing an individual's birth documentation without the person's consent, Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said Friday.

So what changed?  Many people assume the president simply decided to offer his consent.  But is it that simple?  According to an NBC News report, maybe not:

But Wisch, the spokesman for the attorney general's office, said state law does not in fact permit the release of "vital records," including an original "record of live birth" — even to the individual whose birth it records.

"It's a Department of Health record and it can't be released to anybody," he said. Nor do state laws have any provision that authorizes such records to be photocopied, Wisch said. If Obama wanted to personally visit the state health department, he would be permitted to inspect his birth record, Wisch said.

Very curious.  We were informed that (a) state law barred Hawaii from releasing the birth certificate to the public without Obama's permission, but also (b) that the state couldn't release it even with Obama's permission.  And now -- thankfully -- it's been released.  This leads me to conclude that Team Obama actually could have gotten its hands on the document whenever it wanted to all along.  In my mind, the interesting question is why Obama chose this particular moment.

In his remarks this morning, he claimed he decided to finally pull the trigger because he was concerned that too much media attention was being devoted to "silliness," at the expense of serious discussion of crucial budgetary issues.  While I readily agree that the media was spending far too much time chattering about Obama's birthplace, in actuality, "birtherism" only consumed about three percent of the most recent weekly news cycle. 

I suspect the White House must have finally perceived Birthermania as more of a liability than a sideshow -- a sideshow that had actually benefited Obama in some ways through the years.  Politico's Mike Allen reports that his Democratic sources say they'd finally started getting antsy about the potency of the lie:

@: The Trump stuff was doing damage -- A top Dem: "The Swift Boaters taught us that a lie can take hold and do real damage"

The inescapable conclusion to the question posed in the title of this post is therefore pretty straightforward:  Politics.  It seems very likely that Obama, Inc. could have done exactly what it did today at any time over the last four years, but it chose not to.  Maybe that was a smart, if cynical, play.  Maybe it wasn't.  Perhaps they were sick of seeing crazy polling data.  But now it's over.  Finally.  By all means, let's heed the president's advice and move on to the important stuff -- like talking about his atrocious 2012 budget, his non-existent debt plan, and the fact that Democrats have so far failed to frighten Americans -- including seniors! -- into opposing Rep. Paul Ryan's serious and important alternative.

UPDATE - Video of the president's remarks:

"We do not have time for this silliness," the president said....before rushing off to tape Oprah in Chicago and attend three New York fundraisers.