January 25, 2011
The Birther Trial Balloon
Is anyone really surprised that Hawaii's new governor, Neil Abercrombie, was unable to produce the promised Obama long-form birth certificate? No matter how Abercrombie's words are parsed or interpreted or spun, the fact is that there is no new evidence -- just a story about a supposedly well-intentioned but bungling Hawaiian governor, prohibited from access to the certificate because of Hawaii's privacy laws, who must cease the search before he finds himself labeled another "vexatious requester."
The only thing I've found surprising lately was Chris Matthews' tacit admission that a real long-form is indeed an additional document that Obama should present. And this revelation came after months of repeated, condescending scoffs that the online images of the short form and newspaper birth announcements were more than enough evidence for any sane, non-racist person.
Rush Limbaugh recently implied that the entire Abercrombie debacle could be part of a stunt that, once concluded, would result in such rejection and ridicule of the "birthers" that their questions would finally be dismissed once and for all. He may be correct, and a rolled-up copy of a legitimate Hawaiian long-form might be used to further beat the sizeable percentage of the population with doubts into either embarrassed or apologetic submission. Perhaps that long-form may even contain a tidbit of embarrassing personal information, brilliantly spun by the adoring media to garner a touch of sympathy, just in time to assist a 2012 reelection campaign with a significantly toned down opposition and votes for Obama hailed as the ultimate atonement.
However, that scenario suggests that Obama himself could be part of the scheme, and no matter how spun, that might appear rather un-presidential. More likely, and just as William Jacobson titled his brilliant post describing criticism of Sarah Palin following the Tucson shootings: We Just Witnessed The Media's Test Run To Re-Elect Barack Obama.
Jacobson wrote about the "ruthless efficiency" of the left-wing blogosphere and concluded that "[t]his is not about Palin[;] it is about the mainstream media's desire to have Barack Obama re-elected at any cost."
This latest Matthews/Abercrombie fiasco is not about the birthers, either. It is about reelecting Obama in 2012. What better way to ascertain the impact of the birther claims on a reelection bid then to send out a trial balloon to see how the public reacts?
A fascinating exercise is to go back and read all of the articles and blogs, both left and right, following this Hawaiian escapade. And don't stop there: follow the entire birther debacle back to its roots over two years ago. Refrain from a focus on just what has been written or spoken: note also the conservative blogs, politicians, pundits, and constitutional experts who have refrained from saying anything at all.
Note also that running parallel to this citizenship and eligibility debate -- closely related but interestingly never acknowledged outright -- is the "birthright citizenship" issue. Supporters of the practice claim that the foreign citizenship status of a baby's parents should be ignored and that only one factor matters: location, location, location (in other words, the birth certificate). The new Congress is poised to address the controversial policy, and when Newsweek magazine a few months ago included Obama in a list of famous American "anchor babies" in an article entitled "What's So Scary About an Anchor Baby?," the silence from both sides of the aisle was deafening.
For the most part, when birther issues are raised, the response of conservative politicians and pundits is some sort of admonishment wrapped in an often unspoken request to please just shut up and talk about something important. Allahpundit, in his scathing post at Hot Air, "Dopey Hawaii governor figures out new way to tease Birthers," chimed in: "I've asked this before, but what's the endgame here for Birthers?"
Conservatives should be thinking seriously about that question. Polling shows that a significant number of voting Americans, even in poorly worded polls, have eligibility doubts. I'd have a difficult time answering since I believe that Obama was born in Hawaii -- but I don't consider him constitutionally qualified, nor do I find him forthright in a manner befitting the president, in addressing the issue. He offered us a sketchy autobiography but failed to fill in the holes of important details of his life, at every age and including his birth, while the media gave him a pass. As we witnessed recently, Obama stood silently by for several days while that same media ruthlessly attacked one of his opponents.
Professor Jacobson's article noted that some of the media mud thrown, true or not, did indeed stick to Palin's image. Do conservatives really want to join in the alienation of a huge swath of potential voters, rightly insulted when Slate's David Weigel titled his blog post on the Abercrombie affair "Fun New Birther Conspiracy Based Upon Illiteracy"?
Should a conservative response focus on the Constitution's eligibility provisions or election vetting procedures (which may be a wise option, considering the renewed reverence for the document among Tea Partiers), the media's profoundly biased reporting, or Obama's lack of transparency? At the moment, any choice seems better than jumping on the birther-bashing bandwagon or remaining silent while the mainstream media controls the spin.
Whether we like it or not, the birther trial balloon has been launched. Conservatives must now decide whether keeping it aloft, with a concerted effort to control which way it drifts, will help them win in 2012.