The Washington Post

Why the White House chose now to deal with birthers

Apr 27, 2011

The White House released a copy of President Barack Obama's birth certificate Wednesday, but why now? Douglas Schoen, a Democratic campaign consultant, answered questions about the White House's political strategy, and the timing of the birth certificate's release.

Hi everyone.  I'm happy I could join today.

Is this a political game between Obama and the Republicans? 

It's completely a political game.  Trump is demonstrating the need to talk tough and Obama is proving that they are liars.

Is all this stuff good or bad for President Obama in terms of publicity and his likeability?

It is short-term good for Obama that the birther issue has been put to bed once and for all. It's bad long term because it raises issues about his legitimacy and credibility.  

How will the birther movement be used by both sides while campaigning?

The Democrats will say that this is further evidence that the Republicans will engage in any effort to make the President look bad, while the Republicans will use this to further question Obama's overall legitimacy and credibility.

Is this the end of the birther movement? Will they be quite now?

I think they will be quiet for now.  It's undoubtable that there are some people who will not be persuaded and like some people believede in a 9/11 conspiracy, some will believe that his certificate was altered.

Will this really solve the problem? Won't the hard core birthers just claim it's a forgery? That the reason it took so long to release it was because they needed to time to find old paper and old ink to make a good forgery? They also like to make up laws to claim that even if Obama was born in Hawaii, he can't be a natural born citizen because his father wasn't a citizen, because he lived in Indonesia and must have gotten Indonesian citizenship, because he also got British citizenship via his father, etc. They claim that his could have gotten a birth certificate from the state of Hawaii even if Obama wasn't born there. It goes on and on. I think the reasonable people who can be convinced by evidence had already stopped believing the birther nonsense. The ones who remain will not be convinced by any amount of evidence.

I think it's pretty clear at this point that this is his certificate.  For every reasonable and rational person, this should settle the issue.

Is there any hope at all that releasing the long-form birth certificate can make this whole conversation go away forever or will is this going to linger like a foul stench for months to come?

For the vast majority of people who have asked questions or have been concerned, with its release and with interviews being done on CNN, and with the pbulication of the newspaper from 1962 in Hawaii, that should quiet these people.

Sorry, not understanding why the release of the birth certificate causes Republicans to further question Obama's overall legitimacy and credibility?

Now they will minimize the personal attacks and they will turn to his policies - attack him for rising gas prices, wars abroad and a struggling economy.

Republicans don't use this. Fringe candidates and crazies use this. Stop trying to paint all conservatives as using the birther thing when its really a group of crazies who aren't a part of either party, but just don't like Obama (see Donald Trump). Jennifer Rubin hasn't questioned this once.

I think thats a fair point.  The reason I am more general in my comments is because a large percentage of Republicans have said in recent polls that they are unsure of Obama's citizenship.

Would it be too risky for Obama to wait until some Birther had surged to early leads in the Republican Primaries? Why not wait until one of them held a nice long speech on the topic next fall and then expose all of this as nonsense? He has no chance of getting any of these people to vote for him in any event, so why not wait until later in the election cycle to snuff out the issue that was bringing them to the polls?

Obama concluded that we live in a 24 hour news cycle.  Because of that, any issue that is not addressed sticks.  Due to how much attention Trump has been getting, I think Obama felt that this had to be addressed once and for all, and I think this was a clear victory for Obama.

Can you give some examples of similar quandaries abroad? Do you give advice on a case-by-case basis or do you see broad guidelines when advising heads of state?

I think you advise on a case-by-case basis, but one thing is for sure: if the facts are on your side, the best advice is to set the record straight no matter where you stand in the election cycle. 

They should have held it for a few more months, maybe even until October 2012 (what a great October surprise it could have been) after the GOP split itself in two. He did the GOP a favor, allowing for a good year and half of recovery. Does Obama not know how to play poker/negotiate (public option anyone?)? Thoughts on the timing of it?

In a certain sense you are right - the GOP will be able to put itself together after today.  But bottom line, the President couldn't let these lies be repeated for that much longer when the facts itself are clear and on his side.

I guess part of me wonders why Obama didn't release this long form right off the bat rather then letting the issue set for so long? I worry that Obama's lack of political experience hurts him at times. For instance, health care wasn't sold to most people very well, and that is a mistake as it really something that most people need and want. However, the "message" or definition of the intent was left to the opposition to define, and that is never a good idea. The bill should have been pushed by the President early, before the recess if he wanted to be the defining source.

This is a good question - why Obama didn't release the certificat sooner.  I think they thought it would give the issue too much credibility when at the time it was just coming from fringe groups.  But I think then they thought Trump was able to bring too much attention to the issue for them to let it go any longer.   

If you read any legitimate right wing source (like say right turn by the Post's Rubin) they have dismissed this for a while. Its mainly the progressive left, Gene Robinson/ MSNBC that continually talks about this, along with fringe political figures no one really takes seriously. It seems to me like its little more than liberals trying to paint a group of fringe politicians as mainstream.

There is a certain element of truth to that, but the problem is that Trump rose the issue to the top of the poll.  That may be because the Republican Presidential field is so weak, but any time a candidate can bring an issue like this into such prominence, the President has to take it very seriously.

Will Obama's college transcript really now be in question? Where does one draw the line for these docs?

I think the line is drawn at the birth certificate.  I Obama has clearly proven his educational credentials.  Now people should turn to addressing the issues facing the country and how Obama is handling them.

Will Trump be required to disclose the "findings" of his investigators in Hawaii?

Somehow I think we are not likely to ever see the investigative reports..

I give more credit to the political minds behind Obama. . .they released the birth cert now because they KNEW that a significant portion of the GOP base would reject it so that some of the potential hopefulls would try to pander to that group by similarly calling the certificate a forgery. The other hopefulls will condemn this and it only serves to INCREASE the tension between the Republican "main stream" and its fringe elements. Your thoughts?

That may be the result, but I think Obama's goals were more straightforward - he needed to directly address a falsehood that was being spread.

Isn't this just a move to distract from the bad economy intended to evoke a sympathy for Obama? BTW, I love your input on Fox.

Thanks for your kind words - they mean a great deal to me.  I think certainly the Republicans are making a big mistake by thinking the Birther issue can help Republicans get elected.  Their critique of Obama's performance as President is what will help them get elected.

I think the media has been playing down their own role in this nonsense. Thirty years ago a guy like Trump or an empty suit like Sarah Palin with the death panel lies would have been marginalized and then ignored by the press. Now, I suppose due to declining revenue the press just continues to put a microphone in front of these charlatans to drive up internet hits. I liked that Obama pointed out that he was talking both to the great American middle AND the press this AM. The amoral coverage of these nonsensical "stories" has become THE problem.

We live in a polarized time with 24-hour news cycles.  Anything that makes the "news" is fair game.  Things have certainly changed - for better or for worse.

I think the Obama advisers started to look at the polls and that's what prompted the release. When 38% of people polled doubt your story that pretty significant! I'm glad he released it, but it's release tells a bigger story and that's about Obama management skills. He seems to me that he waits for things to become full scale cancers before address the issues. Look at how long he waited on the oil spill and the Libyan crisis and now the birth certificate. I think he has problems when it comes to decision making.

It certainly is clear to me that the President has issues when it comes to decision making - that is fair.  It's a bit unfair to link management of real crises to management of issues that are silly and false.

45% of Republicans in a recent NYTimes/CBS poll said they believe Obama isn't born in the US. So, sorry to your Republican contributors but it IS an issue for a lot of conservatives.

Yes - this is one of the polls I am referring to

I'm sorry, but this sentiment aired moments after the long-form certificate was released and underscores the "oppose-all" mentality that the GOP, Birthers, "fringe," Tea Party, etc., have cultivated since Obama took office. There were questions, Obama provides answers... Now there are questions about the timing of the answers. Where some may see traction, I believe many others are finding that it's grating, tired, and wearing thin. Thoughts?

I agree.  For the swing voters in the middle, this does not help the Republicans.  But for the Republican right, this issue has helped them deligitimize Obama - their long term goal.  Now they will focus on something else. Voters in the middle are concerned about jobs, the economy, etc.

Isn't it true that something like 60% fo Republicans think that Obama was born outside the US? That's not a fringe political group....

Correct - more recently, a larger number of Republicans have said Obama is born outside of the US in polls.

I feel the timing is good. I agree that it causes confusion within the conservatives who haven't been able to present good proposals for the economy. This will definitely knock several radicals out of the race.

Hopefully.  It will be much more useful to have Republican candidates talk about the challenging issues facing the country, and what they would do to address these issues.

Won't the next request from the Tea potters be for a baptismal certificate to prove his religion? These whack jobs won't stop.

I think for now this will put an end to a majority of the things people are saying.  There will always be additional fringe groups, but I think this issue will be put to rest by most of the country.

Let's be honest. Minorities think the word "Birther" is a new code word for "white racist" is this true?

I don't want to speak for minorities and I don't want to interpret code words, but I do think that after today most people know that the birther issue is not real - one that has been proven false once and for all.

I don't know if you've perused the birther blogs this afternoon but they are not convinced AT ALL! They have declared the birth certificate posted by the WH a forgery and a poor one at that. The birthers live on!

Those who believe in conspiracy theories are rarely if ever convinced, but for the vast majority of rational thinking Americans, this issue is done, once and for all.

I missed the Presidents response... did he ever say "I was born in Hawaii!" I am and always have been entitled to be the the President of the United States of America!!!!

Yes - I don't think there is any doubt about that.

Im not an expert, but wouldn't the President and Democrats want the 'birthers' out there, at the top of their lungs until the election, and therefore NOT release the birth certificate? I mean, they look ridiculous and make the Republican's look ridiculous and petty. Wouldnt that work in the Presidents favor come Nov 2012?

Who knows how things will play out if you don't rebut false attacks.  Bottom line, I believe you use the truth aggressively when you have it on your side.

Please stop talking about Trump as though he's some kind of viable candidate. He's not. He's a clown who's out for attention and you're playing into his hands. Not one person I know--Republican or Dmeocrat--takes him seriously.

I understand that close to 2/3 of voters in a USA Today poll reached that conclusion.  At the same time, his outspoken nature and blunt speak has put him at the top of polls, perhaps temporarily.  I don't believe Trump will be our next president, but I do believe he has the ability to change our politics.

I am not saying that every "birther" is a racist, but it would be incredibly difficult to argue that racism was not a big factor in the belief about Obama being foreign-born. And those people, there's nothing you can do to change their minds/hearts.

I'm not here today to characterize people as racist or not racist.  But the facts are clear: President Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961.  Those who want to enhance our dialogue will now focus on the real issues facing our country.

Thank you for all of your questions today.  It's been a pleasure.  Hope to participate on this forum again soon!

In This Chat
Douglas Schoen
Douglas E. Schoen has been an influential Democratic campaign consultants for over thirty years. A founding partner and principle strategist for Penn, Schoen & Berland, he is widely recognized as one of the co-inventors of overnight polling. His political clients include President Bill Clinton, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Indiana Governor Evan Bayh, and his corporate clients include AOL Time Warner, Procter & Gamble and AT&T. Internationally, he has worked for the heads of states of over 15 countries, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and three Israeli Prime Ministers. Schoen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, and holds a degree from Harvard Law School as well as a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University.
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