By MARSHA MERCER
President Barack Obama’s surprise decision to give up his “long-form” birth certificate looked like a misstep.
It won’t satisfy hard-core birthers – nothing will. It gratified the egomaniacal Donald Trump. And it showed Obama’s keen sensitivity to criticism, his Achilles heel.
And yet, with one Internet posting and a few minutes talking to reporters in the White House briefing room, Obama not only put a fake issue behind him, he also showed he understands that a large swath of the population doesn’t get him. Who could be more distant than a president who seems not to be an American? And he finally used the bully pulpit effectively.
“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” he said. “We’ve got big problems to solve.”
For months, Trump, the billionaire developer, TV mogul and possible presidential contender, has been nibbling at what Obama has to hide by refusing the give up his full birth certificate.
No matter that Obama had posted online a shorter birth certificate that the state of Hawaii said was authentic. No matter that the Honolulu newspapers ran baby Obama birth announcements in August 1961 that came from the local health department. No matter that investigations by news organizations and nonprofits all concluded Obama was born in Hawaii.
Still, polls showed the birther issue was in no way abating. Many Americans doubted Obama was born in the USA and questioned his legitimacy as president.
When Obama released the longer birth certificate on Wednesday, Trump declared himself “very proud” and “really honored” that he had forced the president to do something no one else had accomplished.
Obama said he released the birth certificate because the controversy had overshadowed news coverage of economic issues, including his deficit-reduction plan.
Every president’s default position is to blame the news media, but Obama evidently lets the coverage get under his skin. Before he spoke to reporters, Obama watched NBC’s Chuck Todd repeatedly say how “surreal” it was that Obama would be talking about his birth certificate and not his new foreign policy team. Obama chided Todd directly.
“I would not have the networks breaking in (on regular programming) if I was talking about that, Chuck, and you know it,” he said.
Obama’s Achilles heel is that he’s thin-skinned. In their book “The Battle for America 2008,” journalists Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson uncovered a memo that David Axelrod, Obama’s longtime friend and political adviser, wrote Obama in 2006.
Axelrod wrote: “You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don’t relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty. When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched.” Keyes was Obama’s Republican opponent in the 2004 U.S. Senate race.
Uh-oh. Is Trump this year’s Keyes?
Obama told reporters that the week House Republicans pushed their budget plan and he delivered his televised deficit-reduction speech, “that entire week the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate.”
It must have seemed that way in the White House. But researchers who track news coverage say that domestic economic issues did dominate the news the week of April 11 to 17. The birth certificate consumed just 4 percent of the media’s attention, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
I believe that even 4 percent on the birther issue was too much, but it was hardly a big story. 40 percent of the coverage centered on economic issues.
As for Trump, he’s now chewing on Obama’s resume. He wonders how “a terrible student” was able to get into Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He wants Obama to release his college transcripts. This is absurd.
A few weeks ago, only 38 percent of people surveyed said they believed Obama was “definitely” born in Hawaii. The USA Today-Gallup also poll found that 18 percent said he “probably” was born in the United States.
Nearly one in four said Obama definitely or probably was born in another country, and nearly one in five didn’t know what to think
Now they do.
© 2011 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.