Friday, May 6, 2011

We Learned More about the President from the Release of His Birth Certificate Than He May Have Intended

I was never a birther. Those newspaper announcements were pretty persuasive.

I am nevertheless very pleased that President Obama authorized the release of his Hawaiian birth certificate. I understand that the birther/truther/assassination/Roswell conspiracy crowd will continue to howl about this, and I understand some book is coming out that has some stuff in it that’s supposed to be pretty hot, but this controversy is just about dead. I’ve seen a convincing explanation of why the typed information on the online version released by the White House can be made to disappear. For the good public officials of the State of Hawaii to have been hornswoggled into releasing a fraudulent document would have required a conspiracy that would make some of the nutbag Kennedy murder theories look convincing – and would have had to have taken place under the eyes of public scrutiny of the Hawaiian archives that has not let up since the man became a presidential candidate. And the argument that he’s not a “citizen” because his birth and adoptive fathers were not – folks, it’s nuts.

Nope, the President was born here and possesses the technical qualifications to be President of These States United.

And he has performed perhaps the greatest public service of his presidency, which is to have utterly marginalized the odious vulgarian Donald Trump. Another punch-line presidential candidate sliding off the charts, thank Jah.

[Photo Credit:  CBS/Getty Iimages]
And yet, as we have seen with the Osama killing (I’ll favor you with my thoughts on this soon), the episode leaves us with an uneasy feeling about this gifted but perplexing man.

What Took Him So Long? The questions of the circumstances of his birth, while coming from a faction of the right given to hysterical accusations against leaders they don’t like, were not entirely unserious. There existed circumstances which gave rise to doubt which hovered close to the “reasonable” range. For him to have ignored – more, dismissed -- this black-and-white issue of his qualification to hold office was just plain weird. I’ll come back to this.

He Made His Supporters Look Foolish. We kept hearing from the President’s supporters that he had done all he could do, that the record was as complete as it could be, that nothing further was required or even possible. I found this odd, since it did appear that a simple request from him would have sprung that birth certificate. Turns out, there was something definitive he could have done, and at long last, he did it. His supporters are probably jubilant, but from here those sounds of triumph over the birthers seem to be coming from under that bus over there.

His Delay Fed the Impression of Dishonesty About His Personal Record. His peculiar silence on this topic of immense importance served to remind people about how they elected a guy they didn’t know a whole lot about; whose academic record remains in shadow; who almost certainly did not compose Dreams of My Father (I’m not a birther, but the case that he’s fibbing about his authorship is strong); and whose political associations over the years have tended more toward the radical than he has chosen to admit.

He Managed to Look Bad Doing It.  When he finally got around to authorizing the release of his birth certificate, he was – well, he was pissy about it.  He actually had the sand to be petulant, not so much that anyone was asking about where he was born but that anyone even thought it was important. “We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” he said. (And how much time, exactly, did it take him to authorize the release of his certificate? The only thing that kept this issue alive, it turns out, was his refusal to resolve it.  And what is "silly" about formal constitutional mandates?) Above I said he “waited too long,” but that’s not quite right. He wasn’t “waiting” – he believed that the entire topic was beneath his -- anyone's -- notice.

Barack Obama's inaction and attitude have a single explanation:  He does not regard the subject of whether he is constitutionally qualified to be president of any importance.

We have seen this in him before. Here's what I wrote back in August::

He recently made a statement which summed up for me the reasons I have come to find the course of his Presidency so disturbing. At a speech at the American University School of International Service a couple of weeks ago, he reportedly said: 'Being an American is not a matter of blood or birth, it’s a matter of faith.' Even allowing the President some rhetorical license here, it's a very revealing remark, and a silly one. Being an American has almost everything to do with birth. The very first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.'

“While the President knows this, he doesn't really feel its truth. He far prefers the comfort of the abstract thought that America is not a chunk of real estate with borders, but rather a bundle of concepts that have something to do with freedom and equality and abundance and other fine things everyone should experience. And if you value those things, if you have faith in those Americanish things, well, then you must be an American.

 “It is similar to what John F. Kennedy meant when he said 'Ich bin ein Berliner' -- that is, all people who love freedom are, in a sense, citizens of Berlin who had been confined by the Berlin Wall. President Kennedy was speaking conceptually, and in his hands it was a powerful metaphor and a signal moment of the Cold War.

 “But President Obama wasn't just offering an attractive metaphor like Kennedy was. He didn't just say that people who have faith in American values are Americans, a pleasant but not terribly helpful thought in the current border controversy. He said that being born here had nothing to do with being an American. Unlike President Kennedy's graceful formulation, President Obama's treats the metaphor as reality by expressly rejecting the fact that where you are born has anything to do with being an American.

 “This is how he thinks. Not troubled by rules, constitutions, statutes, traditions, voting.”

It is a very academic attitude. His conviction as to his historic inevitabilty -- and rightness -- proceeds from first principles of his own devising (rather, the devising of the academic social theorists he admires), and not from the principles of American constitutional government or even the evidence of history.

And it gives rise to an extraordinary irony:  An event that should have put to rest the issue of his qualification for the White House has only yielded more evidence that he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the place.

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