How A Candidate Should Handle Birther Questions
This past week, Texas Governor Rick Perry was hit with the "birther" question by Parade Magazine. Here is how it went:
Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
I have no reason to think otherwise.
That's not a definitive, "Yes, I believe he"--
Well, I don't have a definitive answer, because he's never seen my birth certificate.
But you've seen his.
I don't know. Have I?
This, of course, created a microburst of concern, fake and real, over Perry's campaign smarts. "You associate yourself with a nutty view like that, and you damage yourself," said Bush strategist Karl Rove. When pressed, Perry predictably waffled: "It's fun to, you know, lighten up a little bit." He added, "I was just having some fun with Donald Trump."
For Perry, like other Republicans tagged with this line of questioning, it has been all lose-lose. An open-minded response to the eligibility question alienates the establishment, and backpedaling alienates the rank and file. To spare future candidates the anxiety, I have structured an imaginary back-and-forth between Herman Cain and Anderson Cooper (in bold).
If I could sum up the strategy in three words, it would be this: take the offensive. Cooper's questions, by the way, are based in part on actual interviews he has done in the past.
To say there is significant evidence that the president was not born in America is just false (a real Cooper question).
As they say on Jeopardy, Anderson, could you put that in the form of a question, please?
Mr. Cain, do you really believe Barack Obama was not born in America?
Let me concentrate on what I know, Anderson, not on what I believe or don't believe. The story that the president told in his book, Dreams from My Father -- the story that he repeated at both conventions and repeats to this day about the first few years of his life -- is false. Anderson, do you know how it is false?
No, enlighten me.
As recently as Father's Day, the president was telling America that his father left the family when he was two years old. He has been repeating this for years even though it is not true.
Not true how (smirking)?
There was no Obama family. His parents never lived together. Obama Senior's INS documents make that clear. Do you know where Obama spent the first year of his life, Anderson?
No, tell me.
No, Anderson, I'm asking you. You tell me. You're the newsman. With all due respect, I have seen you belittle others for their beliefs about Obama's origins.
Hawaii, of course.
No, Anderson, Seattle. How is it that you don't know that?
How do I know that you do?
Don't take my word for it. Check the apolitical Washington State and Seattle history links. They will show you where Obama and his mom lived on Capitol Hill, what courses she took at the University of Washington, who Obama's babysitter was and what she had to say. In fact, the mom, Ann Dunham, did not return to Hawaii until Obama Senior had left for Harvard. It is likely that Obama Senior never even saw Obama as a baby. The mom was in Seattle within weeks of his birth. In fact, the first documented sighting of the baby was in Seattle.
Why is this important?
Well, Anderson, the president built his candidacy on the multicultural ideal that his family represented, but there was no family. There was no "improbable love," no "vision for America's future." Again with all due respect, if the president was willing to deceive us on this, and you and your media colleagues were willing to let the deception go unchecked, how can we take you seriously when you scold so-called "birthers" for challenging Obama's eligibility?
So do you believe Obama is a citizen or not?
No one ever said he wasn't a citizen. The question the "birthers" raise is whether he is a "natural born citizen" as defined by Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution. Do you know what this means?
I am sure you will tell me.
Thank you, I will. To be "natural born" is a higher bar than "citizen" or even a native citizen. It is too complicated to go into here, especially since you are not up to speed on this issue, but it has to do with the citizenship of the parents.
So do you believe that Obama is eligible to be president?
Again, Anderson, it is not what I believe or don't believe. It is what I know. And I know that, incredibly enough, there is no formal process right now to determine anyone's eligibility to run for president. Congress doesn't check. The parties don't check. The Electoral College doesn't check. And as to the media -- heck, Anderson, you can't even tell me where Obama spent the first year of his life. So how is anyone supposed to believe you as to where Obama was born or whether his birth certificate is real, let alone whether Obama is a natural born citizen? You simply don't know enough -- with all due respect, of course.
Thank you, Mr. Cain, and good luck, I suppose. Coming up next: Lindsay Lohan's father arrested again in Tampa. Viewers, don't go away. You won't want to miss this.