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La Commedia e Finita

The longstanding debate about President Barack Obama’s birthplace is now over, or at least so declares Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. After more than five years of making public insinuations that Obama was born in Kenya and thus constitutionally ineligible to be president, Trump on Friday told his usual throng of adoring supporters and skeptical reporters that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Trump’s 30-second-or-so comments came more than 20 minutes into a news conference that his campaign had promised would include a “major announcement” on the issue of Obama’s birthplace, during which time all the cable news networks had been snookered into airing a commercial for the fancy new Trump hotel down the street from the White House and some glowing testimonials from a group of decorated military veterans, and all his adoring supporters considered that a shrewd manipulation of the media. Many of the media even admitted as much, but we suspect those suckered and now all-the-more-skeptical reporters and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were willing trade that 20 minutes of little-watched infomercial for a chance to spend much of the weekend reminding the public that Trump had for years peddled a crackpot conspiracy theory he now admits was bunk all along.
The Washington Post even headlined one of its many stories “For Democrats, a fresh chance to remind voters of Trump’s role in ‘birtherism,‘” and all the big papers and all those snookered cable news networks clearly reveled in re-telling the embarrassing tale. Although the “birther” theory about Obama’s Kenyan birth had been rattling around the far reaches of the internet going back to his run for the Senate, and was occasionally mentioned in the more mainstream press during his primary race against Clinton during his first presidential campaign, it didn’t gain wide currency until Trump started taking time off from his “Apprentice” reality show to champion the cause. In “tweets” and appearances on talk shows cited he noted how “many people are saying” that Obama was foreign-born, and that “credible sources” were insisting, and even that he had dispatched a team of crack investigators to Hawaii and that “they can’t believe what they’re finding,” and he also expressed his own suspicions, although he was always careful never to come out and say he’d reached any conclusion. Now that he acknowledges Obama was born in America, period, Trump probably should be embarrassed.
Trump being Trump, though, he was instead quite proud of himself for putting that distracting and needlessly media-created controversy to rest by forcing the president to release his birth certificate. “Hillary Clinton started it,” Trump proclaimed, “and I finished it.” Both claims were widely ridiculed over the weekend, probably with various degrees of effectiveness.
All the so-called “fact-checkers” have rated the claim that “Clinton started it” a lie, and from our pox-on-both-their-houses objectivity we’ll more or less agree. When the “birther” claims were being occasionally mentioned during that long-ago primary a low-level and unpaid Clinton campaign staffer was fired for touting the story to reporters, but we’d hate to hold a traditional Republican presidential campaign to such a high standard of accountability. More recently the McClatchy chain of newspapers, which bought out the chain of newspapers we once worked for and is now responsible for our pension, is reporting that the longtime Clinton family consigliere Sid “Vicious” Blumenthal was touting the story so convincingly that the chain even sent a couple of reporters to Kenya to check it out, and no one familiar with Blumenthal would put it past him, but it’s also plausible he did it on his own. In any case, Clinton herself never talked or “tweeted” about it, and it all seemed to go away after that low-level and unpaid staffer was fired, and it was certainly never brought up by her during the years she served as Obama’s Secretary of State.
None of those gleeful mainstream press stories mention it, but we’ll also add that Obama also bears some responsibility for the conspiracy theory. The publishers of best-selling and vastly overrated “Dreams From My Father” memoir claimed he was born in Kenya in their promotional materials, which Obama didn’t correct until well into his presidency, and his campaign emphasized his Madrassa education in Indonesia and his fond memories of the Muslim call to prayers and his paternal Kenyan roots and otherwise cosmopolitan background, and he did take his sweet time releasing his birth certificate, all sorts of educational and passport records remain unreleased to this day. The ensuing seven and more-than-a-half years of Obama foreign policy have only exacerbated suspicions about his philosophical if not legal status Americanism, and his sympathies for Islam if not his fully-fledged allegiance to the religion.
Rather than make those make those reasonable arguments about Obama’s foreign policy, though, Trump naturally preferred to question Obama’s legal status as an American and leave his supporters claims that Obama is a Muslim unchallenged. There are plenty of reasonable arguments to be made against any of the Clinton family, too, but rather than limiting himself to that ample supply of ammo he’s talked about how some people are talking the quite unproved claim that they offed Vince Foster. We suppose there were also arguments to be made against the presidential candidacy of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, but Trump chose to draw attention to a preposterous National Enquirer story about how Cruz’s father was in on the John F. Kennedy assassination. In a bipartisan spirit he’s also embraced the Bush Lied, People Died theory of the Iraq War, made numerous appearances on the Alex Jones’ “InfoWars” show that long asserted the Sept. 11 terror attacks were an inside job, and suggested that everything from the recent Democratic primary to the upcoming general election is “rigged.”
Before Trump is allowed to get on with the business of making America great, the Democrats and their allies in the media are entitled note that he has a long history of peddling crackpot conspiracy theories, and that it is not a desirable trait in a president. Trump and his supporters are also entitled to note how very Clinton is, and from our pox-on-both-their-houses perch we won’t disagree with the most of it, but after this weekend they’ll likely be less credible in the effort. Even if Trump did finally put that crackpot conspiracy theory to rest, except for those corners of the internet that will continue to insist and insist that Trump is right about everything.

— Bud Norman

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A Kenyan, a Hawaiian and a Birther Walk Into a Bar

Jokes rarely withstand scrutiny, and even more rarely merit it, but a jest tossed out by Mitt Romney last week deserves some consideration.

Speaking to a large and enthusiastic crowd in Commerce, Michigan, the Republican presidential nominee made an obligatory appeal to home state pride by reminding his supporters that he and his wife were born in nearby hospitals. He then added that “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place where we were born and raised.”

It’s not nearly a knee-slapper, even by the low standards of presidential campaign humor, but it apparently achieved its desired effect. Reporter Jan Crawford of the CBS network was in attendance and immediately issued a “tweet” that there were “two reactions to his birth certificate joke: reporters gasped — and a crowd of thousands laughed and cheered.” Getting a crowd to laugh and cheer is the primary purpose of any joke, of course, but with the added benefit of causing reporters to gasp the line must be considered a success.

Not only the reporters were scandalized by the reference to birth certificates, however, as many of the president’s other supporters also expressed shock and indignation that Romney would “go there.” Although a more objective listener might surmise that the line merely acknowledged the widely known fact that some Americans question whether Obama was born in the United States, Romney’s more excitable critics leaped to conclusion that it was intended as an endorsement of what has come to be known as the “birther” theory. Although Romney has long disputed the theory, and insisted that he is satisfied Obama was born in Hawaii, the folks at the lefty activist group MoveOn.org even rented a plane with an hilariously misspelled banner proclaiming that “America is better then birtherism.”

Such a reaction was so easily predictable that even some of Romney’s supporters have been moved to speculate why he would provoke it. The estimable Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds and Ann Althouse, both law professors and widely-read internet commentators, simultaneously seized on the same idea that Romney had intended to imply to his audience, and to the millions more who would eventually hear of the line, that Obama has taken a “post-American” approach to the presidency and that Romney is “more truly and fundamentally American.” This seems a fair argument, given how Obama’s campaign in ’08 stressed his foreign background and global citizenship, that his own literary agent had peddled the born-in-Kenya story as a way of enhancing his exotic appeal, and that his approach to the presidency has indeed been “post-American,” so perhaps Reynolds and Althouse are on to something.

On the other hand, perhaps the joke was intended to provoke its predictable reaction merely to demonstrate how very thin-skinned and humorless the president and his supporters have become. Many of the president’s admirers insist that he be immune from the usual jabs and jibes of campaigning, a rule that John McCain slavishly obeyed to no useful effect in the ’08 race, and it’s also possible that Romney intended the joke to announce that he’s not going to be so constrained.

Then again, maybe it was a just a joke.

— Bud Norman