The release of Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate yesterday probably won't quiet all the so-called carnival barkers out there, but it ought to make a dent. As the president observed, the political sideshow over his place of birth and citizenship had become too great a distraction of late not to at least make the effort.
Make no mistake, President Obama didn't prove this morning that he was born in Hawaii. That was already accomplished several years ago when he released his short-form birth certificate, the one that is standard issue in the 50th state and that Republican and Democratic governors had already confirmed matched the information on the longer document.
That there was ever even an inkling of doubt over the authenticity of this routine documentation speaks volumes of the power of conspiracy theories and the regrettable tendencies of some Americans to refuse to accept a black man named Barack Hussein Obama as a countryman. To them, he is different, an outsider, the son of an African and someone who has even lived briefly outside the United States in a (shudder) Muslim country.
The president had it exactly right when he said the country "doesn't have time for this kind of silliness" when there are so many serious issues to be addressed. He might also have observed that it hasn't just been New York billionaire media whore Donald Trump doing the barking. Birthers come in all shapes and sizes, and cowardly Republican leaders had only recently tried to distance themselves from the conspiracy theorists.
Even Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who is not exactly a President Obama fan, cautioned against her party's self-destructive tour down wacko road earlier this week. "It's just something I believe is leading our country down a path of destruction," she told an interviewer on CNN while explaining her choice to veto a bill that would have required, among other things, a presidential candidate to submit early baptismal or circumcision records.
It's sophistry to complain that the White House could have deep-sixed the birther movement months ago by petitioning Hawaii for this added documentation earlier. The birth certificate was already public record, and presidents usually have better things to do than respond to every crackpot who makes outrageous claims without a shred of evidence to back them up.
But when critical decisions over the nation's debt and budget deficit become overshadowed by such nonsense, Mr. Obama had little choice but to exhaust every resource available to him. Once again, the president has positioned himself as the lone grown-up in the room focused on the welfare of the country and not on the rantings of the right-wing conspiracy crowd.
Will the release finally derail the birther movement? Probably not. Hardcore skeptics will believe want they want to believe without letting facts stand in their way. The Sun received a letter to the editor minutes after the president released the document claiming it was obviously fake because Mr. Obama's father's race is listed as "African" rather than "Negro," which the writer assumes would have been standard practice in 1961. And so it continues.
It will be far more interesting to witness what this does to the GOP presidential contenders and whether they will finally distance themselves from the fringe. As Mr. Trump's standing in the polls seemed only to increase the more outspoken he became on the birth certificate and his "investigation" into the president's origins, one suspects it won't be the final word on the subject.
All of which is bad news for Republicans who may remember the release of the long-form birth certificate as the moment their chances of recapturing the White House in 2012 started fading away as all but the most irrational among us finally recognized the bizarre birther sideshow for what it was — pure hokum on the midway.