President Obama's decision to release more-detailed proof of his U.S. citizenship on Wednesday amounted to a political gamble.
On one hand, the newly announced reelection candidate was playing smart, hardball politics. Here was bulletproof evidence that he was born in Hawaii, just as he has said all along. By discussing it in person in the White House briefing room, Obama forced the networks to cut away from potential Republican challenger’s Donald Trump’s much-hyped appearance in New Hampshire -- a fact the president couldn't resist gloating about before delivering a stern lecture: “We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers,’’ he said.
But on the other hand, the president overshadowed his own, arguably more important, changes to his foreign policy team to engage with a man widely viewed as an egomaniacal stuntman. By handing over the long-form birth certificate Trump had demanded, Obama handed him bragging rights as well. And the document’s release by Obama may have raised more questions than it answered, including this one: What took him so long?
“I don’t know if he thought he was above it or getting political mileage out of it by making Republicans look foolish by asking the question,’’ said Republican operative Carl Forti. “It’s confusing. It doesn’t make any sense. Why wouldn’t he do this before?''
Members of the president's camp argued that they tried to explode the birth certificate rumors in 2008 by posting the birth certificate that's used to obtain drivers' licenses and other legal documents. But pressure to do more developed after Trump revived the controversy and it threatened to overshadow the debate over the nation's economic agenda -- a debate Obama thinks he can wins.
While the judgment of the voters remains to be delivered, the bizarre episode reinforced one of the defining narratives of the fledgling 2012 campaign: a wrestling match for the high ground. In other words, which party is the most serious about the economy and best equipped to fix it?
“I’ve got better stuff to do,’’ Obama said -- after summoning reporters to hear his defense of his constitutional qualifications for the office he's occupied since 2009. "We’ve got big problems to solve.’’
The GOP countered with a snarky e-mail pointing out that his schedule Wednesday included an appearance with First Lady Michelle Obama on “The Oprah Winfrey Show’’ and a fundraiser at the swanky Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.
The presumptive frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, sought to seize the mantle of economic sobriety just minutes after the president’s remarks, posting on Twitter: “What President Obama should really be releasing is a jobs plan.’’
In fact, Republicans have been growing increasingly nervous that questions about the president’s birth were damaging the GOP’s brand as the party of limited government and spending. When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a so-called birther bill last week, she said, “I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on Earth to submit their early baptismal or circumcision certificates, among other records, to the Arizona secretary of state. This is a bridge too far."
As for whether the release of the long-form birth certificate would put questions about Obama's citizenship to rest, Democrats were skeptical. The people who question Obama’s citizenship tend to be older, white staunch Republicans who are unlikely to be persuaded to change their opinion, said Democratic pollster Dave Beattie.
“They’ll find another reason not to support him,’’ said Beattie, who has polled on this issue in multiple states. “If facts mattered, this would have been put to rest long ago. This is not a fact-based debate.’’