President Obama released his long form birth certificate Wednesday after years of speculation about the issue metastasized into a major political phenomenon he could no longer ignore.
But the question remains: Why did Obama, who has proudly vowed his administration would be the “most open and transparent in history,” wait so long?
The document itself is unremarkable. It includes details not on the short form birth certificate released by Obama’s campaign in 2008 – the age of his mother (18) and father (25) on the day he was born, for instance – but nothing scandalous or even unusual.
Only on April 22 did Obama initiate, through outside legal council, a request to the Hawaii Department of Health to waive normal policy and send him a copy of the long form document.
After all the explanations given by Hawaii officials, including from the attorney general – that it was against the law to release a copy of the document — Director of Health Loretta Fuddy approved the request three days later.
“I have the legal authority to approve the process by which copies of such records are made … I am making an exception to current departmental policy,” Fuddy wrote.
Two main factors elevated the issue such that Obama could no longer ignore requests for a simple, unremarkable document.
First, likely GOP presidential candidate and real estate mogul Donald Trump pushed the issue as no one else could. His knack for publicity and skill on television allowed him to bypass a culture in polite political society in which the issue was taboo. The move was part of a political strategy – one that has worked – of appealing to GOP primary voters. But it’s unclear how it will pan out now that Obama has come forward with the long form birth certificate.
Second, Matt Drudge, one of the most powerful drivers of the news cycle, followed the story relentlessly on the Drudge Report, including highlighting a forthcoming book on the subject by controversial author Jerome Corsi.
As Obama noted in a press conference Wednesday, when Republicans announced their budget, and Obama later gave a speech announcing a vague new plan separate from the budget he had already released, “during that entire week, the dominant news story wasn’t about the monumental choices we’re gonna have to make as a nation, it was about my birth certificate.”
Certainly, conspiracy theorists who peddled lies and half-truths on the issue – and there were many – are at fault for the explosion of the issue.
But did Obama provide them cover in failing to fully address a simple document request for over two years?
The political world in Washington was rife with speculation from Democrats and Republicans about whether Obama was using the “birther” issue for political advantage, as a way to make his conservative critics appear fringe.
According to Obama, it was just one of many issues he “normally would not comment on [since] there’s a lot of stuff swirling in the press on any given day.”
There’s an important precedent for Obama’s political team ignoring a burgeoning issue for too long: when for months Obama declined to answer questions about the job former-Rep. Joe Sestak had been offered as payment if he chose not to run in the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania.
Former President Bill Clinton had called Sestak on Obama’s behalf to discuss job options for Sestak, and top GOP oversight official Darrell Issa, then only a ranking member on the oversight committee, was able to drive the issue seemingly endlessly.
At the time, even Democrats privately faulted the Obama White House for allowing the issue to metastasize into a mini-scandal, even though the underlying facts were more-or-less commonplace political practice.