At first glance it defied credulity that the staid, respected Chicago Tribune would do something as screwball as giving any credence to the issue of whether President-elect Barack Obama is really a U.S. citizen or not. But the Tribune will run not one but two big splashy ads paid for by a quasi libertarian outfit named www.wethepeoplefoundation.org based in Queensbury, New York. The group demands that Obama produce his original birth certificate with all the official markings and proper affixed signatures on it. The one that the Hawaii Department of Health officials made public last June was an electronic copy of the certificate.
Unfortunately, Hawaii officials left just enough room for the Obama birth certificate-hounders to wiggle through when they correctly noted that privacy laws forbade them from releasing original documents without the authorization of the individual for which the documents are requested; in this case that individual being Obama.
Obama at the time -- and since then -- has also correctly declined to give any more ammunition to the birth certificate-hounders. His campaign simply issued a statement that the document released by Hawaii officials is authentic. But that just emboldened the Obama-hounders even more. Nearly a million have taken a gander at a YouTube clip on the controversy, dozens of websites fuel the rumor mill about his certificate, and a pile of articles have rehashed the issue of whether the birth certificate that Hawaii produced is legit. Nearly two dozen lawsuits or petitions have been filed in various state courts contesting Obama's U.S. citizenship (one of them was filed by political gadfly Alan Keyes).
The Tribune ads won't help matters. But it probably wouldn't have made much difference if the paper had refused the ad. The online mill would still crank away about the certificate. Wagging tongues fan a controversy and that's always good for website looks and business. As for We the People, it has used the controversy as a fund raising chip (gimmick).
But that's less important for some than finding any issue no matter how farfetched to further stoke the paranoid suspicions of more than a few about Obama. Those suspicions were deeply implanted the moment that he declared his presidential candidacy in 2007. They rumbled above and underneath the surface throughout the campaign, and never stopped when he won.
He was not black enough. He was too black. He was not patriotic enough. He was too liberal, too effete, too untested. He was a Muslim, terrorist fellow traveler, and a closet black radical. The shock of an Obama in the White House is simply too much for many to bear. Obama defies the stereotypical textbook look and definition of what an American president is supposed to look like, and be like; namely a wooden image middle-aged, or older, white male.
Obama said as much during a campaign stop in late July when he quipped that he did not look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills. Obama got torched for saying the obvious and that is that his candidacy was different. Obama later admitted that it was a racial reference. The off-the-cuff remark simply reinforced the point that he and his candidacy marked a turning point in U.S. presidential politics and by extension race relations.
The Obama birth certificate-hounders have kept the issue alive with some mainstream papers by crudely cloaking their motives. They depict themselves as public spirited citizens and legal experts with no personal, political, let alone racial, ax to grind. Their sole goal is to ensure electoral truth and accuracy, to make sure that all the legal requirements for holding a presidential office are met, and to head off a constitutional crisis. They claim they want to put the matter to rest for good before his January 20 inauguration.
Their fantasy is that the U.S. Supreme Court will help them out and demand that Obama produce his supposed "real" birth certificate and if not declare the election null and void. The Supreme Court hasn't made any demand on Obama to pony up his birth certificate, and likely won't. Even if a justice or two had a stray thought about taking a peek at the issue, the memory of the fury over the court's meddle in the 2000 election that ultimately tipped the White House to Bush is still too fresh in their and the public's mind to butt in on such a wacky issue.
The bad thing about the controversy over Obama's birth certificate is not that some print publications have dignified the issue by running paid hit ads on it, but that the ads were even conjured up in the first place. And even worse that so many millions are still willing to believe that it's an issue at all.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).