By Sam Youngman - 04/27/11 10:14 PM EDT
President Obama hopes his release of a long-form birth certificate Wednesday will leave voters seeing him as Washington’s last standing grown-up.
It’s a continuation of a strategy the White House has employed since the midterm elections, when Democrats lost the House and saw their majority narrow in the Senate.
Since then, Obama has sought to portray himself as above politics and willing to work with both parties to reach agreements — for example, to extend the Bush-era tax cuts — and to avert a government shutdown.
The contrast was striking Wednesday, between Obama dismissing the “silliness” surrounding his birth certificate and Donald Trump in New Hampshire talking about how proud he was that he forced the president to address the issue.
During a visit to the White House briefing room, where he scolded the media for paying attention to “carnival barkers” — presumably like Trump, whom he did not mention by name — Obama said he hoped to put an end to questions about his birthplace so that the country could move on to serious issues.
The White House said Obama personally decided on the move because he was frustrated that the story was interfering with a discussion on Medicare and the budget, which the White House views as a political winner.
“We live in a serious time right now and we have the potential to deal with the issues that we confront in a way that will make our kids and our grandkids and our great-grandkids proud,” Obama said. “And I have every confidence that America in the 21st century is going to be able to come out on top just like we always have. But we’re going to have to get serious to do it.”
White House officials and Democratic strategists believe the president will win points from voters for focusing on issues and delivering results at a time when trivial debates and “sideshows,” in the White House’s words, dominate the news.
The White House also is eager to engage in the a renewed debate over the budget with House Republicans, who Democrats believe have erred in proposing changes to Medicare that some polls suggest are unpopular with voters.
Staff undermined Obama's scolding of the media, however, by refusing to answer questions about changes in the national-security team on a day when they were focused on the birth certificate.
Re-entering the “birther” fight is also a gamble of sorts for Obama, who elevated the issue — and Trump — by addressing it personally and from the White House.
Some liberals were quick to criticize Obama for being bullied into releasing the document by Trump.
But rank-and-file Democrats, mindful of Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) disastrous decision to initially ignore the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in his 2004 presidential campaign, were thrilled. Those Democrats see Obama’s aggressiveness on the issue as a sharp political move aimed at hanging a conspiracy theory around Trump and other Republicans who want Obama’s office.
Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said the move was “brilliant,” especially as it was timed to coincide with Trump's first foray into the first-in-the-nation primary state on Wednesday.
“Now that 50 percent of all Republicans don’t believe the president was American-born in the U.S., the GOP leaders and candidates have the impossible situation of having to stand with their birther base or sound rational to the rest of America by dropping one of the looniest conspiracy stories ever hatched,” Buckley said.
Polls suggest a significant number of Republican voters doubt Obama was born in the U.S., and it’s possible those numbers have gone higher since Trump started pitching the issue.
Democratic strategist and contributor to The Hill's Pundit's Blog Karen Finney, who called Wednesday morning’s events a “smart move,” lamented that the issue had not been put to rest sooner.
“[It's] incredibly sad that it got to this point,” Finney said. “There is plenty of blame to go around on this — it should've been more vigorously fought and dismissed a long time ago.”
But Finney said it is Republicans who screwed up, allowing the issue to grow to the point that it is identified with the party.
“The GOP let it go on far too long, and despite their comments to the contrary, they let it go on and fully understood the ramifications of vague answers like 'I take him at his word' rather than outright calling it silliness,” Finney said.
A statement from the Republican National Committee (RNC) suggested it thought the birther issue was becoming a liability.
While Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have in the past said they take the president at his word that he was born in the U.S., new RNC Chairman Reince Preibus was much more definitive on Tuesday.
Preibus told reporters that he believes Obama was born in the United States, and he said that he does not think the issue “moves voters.”