Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Now?

President Obama released a copy of his long-form birth certificate today, thus proving ... absolutely nothing, since the conspiracy-nuts peddling the "birther" nonsense are not amenable to rational discourse.

But it does raise the interesting question -- why now?

In terms of why President Obama had refrained from releasing the certificate to this point, a couple of reasons had been floated. First, the simple fact that he shouldn't have to -- the President of the United States should not have to dance to the tune of conspiratorial lunatics. Second, that it wouldn't do any good -- and lo and behold, birthers are still birthers. Third, a political calculation that allowing the birthers to burble around in GOP circles was a political boon -- the GOP couldn't fully disavow them without infuriating their base, yet the publicity over the issue was radioactive with the center.

Okay -- so what changed? It's hard to know. The closest answer I can give -- and it strikes me as a little 8-dimensional chess-ish -- is that it helps raise the political profile of Donald Trump, who can embarrass the GOP in new and exciting ways. Trump is already taking credit for the revelation -- even though it reveals him as a pathological liar since he had just claimed the certificate didn't exist -- and Sarah Palin agrees. The more that Trump is seen as a stand in for "Republican leader", the more the media might have to take seriously his presidential bid. And a Trump nomination would be a gift-wrapped present for this president.

Still -- it strikes me as a little convoluted, no? Other theories welcome in the comments.


Thomas said...

This was approximately the theory I arrived at as well - although it's several steps of logic, it seems pretty plausible.

sonicfrog said...

I would have waited until the Republican debates. If they are going to make this a political issue... Then destroy them with it! The release at that time could have done some serious damage. Releasing it now is akin to shooting the gun up in the air.

Now, is anyone in the Conservative media going to hold Trump accountable for statements such as:

“His grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya, and she was there and witnessed the birth. He doesn’t have a birth certificate or he hasn’t shown it. He has what’s called a certificate of live birth. That is something that’s easy to get,” Trump said, arguing that Obama has spent $2 million in legal fees “to get away from this issue.”

Calling it potentially one of the biggest scams in the history of politics, Trump said he’d like Obama to show his birth certificate.
“And to be honest with you, I hope he can,” he told “Today.”

“Well I’ve been told very recently, Anderson, that the birth certificate is missing,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Monday. “I’ve been told that it’s not there or it doesn’t exist. And if that’s the case it’s a big problem.”

and "“I’ve been told that it’s not there or it doesn’t exist. “, and “I have people that actually have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding,”.

I will be absolutely SHOCKED if any of the Conservative drooling heads will ever DARE to question Trump on... He is a millionaire after all, and is beyond reproach.

wrote more here.

PG said...

The story from the White House is that it's due to George Stephanopoulos's being Trump's puppet.

Cycle Cyril said...

To win the election Obama needs the independent voters and Trump was pounding Obama so hard on this issue it was beginning to affect his numbers in that group of voters especially when you consider that when you apply for a passport, as one of my kids just did, you cannot present a short form but a long form birth certificate.

When someone is running for the office of the presidency or any other elected position in this country opening your entire life and records is necessary and if one does not then rightfully it begs the question why not and it is an insult to the public.

Now Trump is questioning the brilliance of Obama and in not so many words is saying Obama got into Columbia and Harvard under affirmation action quotas.

Will Obama reveal his grades as McCain and Bush and Kerry and Gore did before him? I would love to compare my grades in Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities with his.

PG said...


Since you're still qualifying to comment here:

Trump does well among two types of voters: (a) birthers; (b) people who identify as independent because they aren't that interested in politics and therefore know that guy who's on "The Apprentice" but have no idea who Mitch Daniels is. Celebrity name recognition has tremendous power, especially when there's been very little campaigning done. Group (a) is by definition obsessed with Obama's birth certificate. Group (b) doesn't care much because also by definition, they don't follow politics that closely.

when you apply for a passport, as one of my kids just did, you cannot present a short form but a long form birth certificate.

Did your kid apply for a passport in the state of Hawaii? If not, your anecdote is worthless. In that state, the computer-generated short form record is the only record the state normally issues and is valid for all purposes of proving birth. The U.S. State Department says, "A certified birth certificate has a registrar's raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar's signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office, which must be within 1 year of your birth." It's only short records that are lacking one of these elements that are not valid for obtaining a passport.

How exactly do you think Obama ever got a passport as a child to accompany his mother to Indonesia? Or to travel back to the U.S.? Or to visit Pakistan, Kenya, etc. as an adult? I ask sincerely because I'm curious about the logic of assertions such as yours. I can't tell if you've never actually thought through this, or if you have an elaborate theory of how Obama has been subverting passport requirements for 40-odd years.

When someone is running for the office of the presidency or any other elected position in this country opening your entire life and records is necessary

Really? So you've always favored the opening of Jack Ryan's divorce records during his 2004 Senate race with Obama?

Will Obama reveal his grades as McCain and Bush and Kerry and Gore did before him?

Bush and Gore didn't voluntarily reveal their grades; they were leaked to the New Yorker and Washington Post respectively, without the candidates' consent. During the 2000 campaign, Bush also refused to disclose his complete military records, although he made greater disclosures in 2004 because Kerry was releasing his grades and Navy records.

Personally, I don't believe I can determine based solely on a transcript whether Obama was a good applicant to Columbia as an undergrad transfer, or to Harvard Law, because I'm actually familiar enough with the admissions process to know it's an idiosyncratic crapshoot. I got into Georgetown Law and was rejected by GW; got into Columbia Law but was rejected by Fordham. Does this mean that GW and Fordham, contrary to received wisdom, are actually more elite law schools than Georgetown and Columbia? Or might it signify that the particular admissions committees of different schools can put differing priorities on the mix of test scores, courseload, extracurriculars, writing ability (as demonstrated by essay), and GPA that each candidate presents? And that this can change based on the composition of the committee? (As it did at Columbia Law after the death of the longstanding dean of admissions.)

Trump's belief that he can determine solely from Obama's grades whether he was a good candidate for Ivy League schools merely demonstrates Trump's ignorance.

Cycle Cyril said...

I figure I wont be banned until I talk about Islamofascism and how Islam has not been re-interpreted since the 7th century. But back to the topic at hand.

While there are several potential motives for Obama to go public with his original birth certificate one factor, in my opinion, is the increasing percent of independents questioning the location of his birth. Without independents no candidate can win.

With regards to getting a passport even the official Hawaiian short form is unofficial. See this site: for the new requirements. And in the past the rules were far more lax from personal experience in the 1970's.

As for Ryan, yes, I would not excuse him. If you want to have a public life you must make your life public. As a voter I decide my vote based not just on the public policy statements but on the private personality and background of the candidate as best as I can determine them.

You are right that there is more to an acceptance than a mere GPA. But it is a start along with his SAT and LSAT scores. But the problem for Obama is that so many have called him brilliant that if his scores are below average or even just average it calls into question not so much his intelligence but the hype that surrounds him.

But if he does have superlative grades but has not released them then he is playing games with the American public (or even a portion that is critical of him) and he should not be trusted on that basis alone to be President of the United States and all of its people.

Since he has used his putative intelligence to advance his career by advertising his Ivy League resume I want him to prove more than just credentials which all too many times has no bearing on ability. As you have noted admission committees and even the granting of diplomas have agendas other than intelligence or abilities. Sometimes they deem superficial diversity superior to true ability. (Now that statement might get me banned by David).

PG said...

With regards to getting a passport even the official Hawaiian short form is unofficial. See this site: for the new requirements. And in the past the rules were far more lax from personal experience in the 1970's.

Try reading the list of requirements on your link, comparing that to the short form, and then telling me what the latter is lacking that's mandated by the former. (Hint: nothing is, especially not Obama's parents' full names.)

Also, what presidential candidate in history voluntarily fulfilled your claimed standard for disclosure? Did Reagan publicize his grades and divorce records? Did McCain make a timeline of his courtship of his second wife relative to his divorce proceedings from his first? It's sweet that you have this ideal of transparency, but it's laughable to imply that Obama is unusual in deviating from it.

You are right that there is more to an acceptance than a mere GPA. But it is a start along with his SAT and LSAT scores. ... I want him to prove more than just credentials which all too many times has no bearing on ability.

As someone who scored in the 99th percentile for the SAT and LSAT, I find the idea that graduating magna cum laude and Harvard Law Review president are just credentials, that have no bearing on ability, to be really, really funny. I've both been prepped and prepped others for these and other standardized exams. The standardized testing regime in America has been very advantageous to me, but I don't fool myself that I therefore have greater overall intellectual abilities than 99% of people who have taken these exams. I'm at least smart enough to recognize the difference between ability to take a test (especially one where the vocabulary, skills, etc. to be tested are known far beforehand), and ability to do anything practically useful.

But I guess since I'm a woman of color, *that* must be what's gotten me ahead in life. After all, it's only white men whose fathers were senators, presidents, admirals, millionaires, et al., whom we know to have earned everything on their own merits -- regardless of whether they've been disclosing their grades and scores. The rest of us are born suspect.

Cycle Cyril said...

Again the among the reasons that Obama released his birth certificate at this time the loss of independents who were beginning to question his birth had to be a major consideration.

The short form of Hawaii very well may satisfy the State Department requirements.

You may think my desire to know as much as possible about a candidate for office "sweet" but I call that due diligence. And I don't care if no other candidate fulfilled fully my desire for disclosure, but I want as much as possible. If you are satisfied by candidates promising transparency but only delivering smoke and mirrors then that is your approach to life but not mine.

Obama and his handlers sold him as brilliant, intellectual and cerebral. Instead of merely accepting the claims I think that you would want to see the evidence. What was his contribution to the Harvard Law Review? What were his grades and scores on SAT/LSAT? You might say I trust but verify.

With regards to credentials versus ability you are quite correct that SAT's/LSAT's don't directly and reliably convey or indicate ability. Likewise graduating from elite institutions, no matter what the class rank, does not indicate ability.

And while you may be a woman of color, as a South Asian (correct me if I'm wrong), I doubt you've been the beneficiary of any institutional largess that could be and has been bestowed on privileged minorities.

David Schraub said...

Well, he was President of the Law Review. That's a pretty substantial contribution. He also wrote a case comment, 103 Harv. L. Rev. 823 (1990) (all Harvard Law Review student work is unsigned and anonymous, but this is confirmed as his). Journals have different norms on requiring student publication as a condition for Board advancement -- it isn't a prerequisite at the University of Chicago Law Review, for instance (even for the very top positions).

Still, I have no idea what even the relevant question here is. SATs and LSATs are notoriously poor predicators of either academic performance (beyond the first year) or future success. Like PG, I say this as someone who scored in the 99th percentile on both. It's not something that I put on my CV, because Jesus Christ I'm an adult now. Within the legal profession, class rank at elite institutions and journal membership (/board position) are easily the most important metrics of ability -- at least until one enters the workforce and accomplishes things like, say, becoming President of the United States.

This isn't "trust but verify", this is "distrust and cherry-hunt" -- you admit that the information you seek is (at best) no more relevant than, and more dated than, the information already available, but, hey, "due diligence"! Bullshit. And I think PG is quite right to observe that you hardly seemed as, or seem as, concerned about "verifying" the academic accomplishments of White pols.

PG said...

The short form of Hawaii very well may satisfy the State Department requirements.

Then why did you confidently assert in two prior comments that it didn't? You've demonstrated that not only do you fail to find information for yourself and instead rely on misinformation from people who share your bias against Obama, but also you refuse to concede your error ("very well may") when information is shoved in your face.

Regarding transparency, please cite an instance of Obama's promising that he would be transparent about himself as an individual, rather than about the operations of his Administration. While you're again not bothering to actually base your assertions on fact, I'm going to be reading the serious critics of Obama who note his actual failures in promised transparency (

Cycle Cyril said...


At present that are no "white pols" who is president and who has been touted as brilliant or intellectual or other superlatives.

Since this was major selling point for his supporters and his campaign it needs to be backed up and not simply on the basis of one short comment and two books of mixed quality. Parts of that proof would be the results of the standardized tests he has taken and his grades and his class rank. And yes that information has only limited ability to predict future success but he and his followers has based his ascent in large part due to his intellect. I want to know the basis of that claim.

And to be perfectly candid I would still be against him on policy issues even if he was on the same intellectual level of James Madison or Thomas Jefferson. But at least on this issue there would be some substance as opposed to smoke and mirrors.

And I have no problem in digging into the past of any politician, white or black, blue or red, to know as much about them as possible. If a guy has a skeleton in his past and wants to keep it hidden he should not run for office (as happened to Ryan) because I would want to know as much as possible about a candidate.

As it is Obama is probably the least vetted of any of our recent presidential candidates to the point where his dealings with acknowledged domestic terrorists have never been fully examined, particularly by the popular media.

When a claim has been made do you accept take at face value? I don't. If you want I'll change my tune and I’ll now say “distrust and verify” but I thought you could read between the lines.


When I’m wrong on some facts, I’m wrong and I move on.

So moving on - Obama doesn’t need to promise to reveal anything; in my opinion it is an obligation of any politician running for office. Would you vote for a cipher or an individual?

PG said...


You seem to misunderstand what's being said here. Your comments are throwing *your* honesty into doubt. I start with the default assumption that anyone commenting here makes statements in good faith. Good faith includes both a willingness to think for oneself (not just recycle claims disproven long ago) and to acknowledge when one has been in error. You've failed on both of these counts just within this comment thread.

Your good faith is also in doubt because you want to start the history of American politics with Barack Obama, the first non-white president. You say, 'At present that are no "white pols" who is president and who has been touted as brilliant or intellectual or other superlatives.' Why yes, since there's only one person who can be president at a time and the president's black, it's true that there's no white president at present. However, we've had rather a lot of white presidents and presidential candidates in the past (and of course you said this standard applies to candidates for ANY elected office), some of whom were touted as brilliant or intellectual (e.g. Rhodes Scholars Richard Lugar, Larry Pressler, Bill Clinton, Bill Bradley, Wesley Clarke), and yet they didn't go around disclosing their grades and scores either.

For that matter, we have white politicians right now being mentioned as potential successors to Obama, who are supposed to be quite intellectual -- Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, et al. -- and yet I haven't seen any of these folks' transcripts. Look at Rand Paul: sure, he got into and graduated from Duke Med, but that's just a credential. He didn't even graduate from college! His campaign manager *says* he scored in the 90th percentile on the MCAT, but where's the documentation? How do we know he really merited being able to get into Baylor's honors program -- after all, his dad was already a Texas Congressman by then, and Paul Sr. went to Duke Med too... legacy admit!

I could play this game with just about any Republican you can name. The only intellectual who's been floated for 2012 whom I could imagine putting all his academic records on display, because he's just that dorky, is Bobby Jindal... the non-white guy.

Cycle Cyril said...


As I’ve mentioned before, I not only have no problem having politicians open up their lives for public scrutiny, I think it is an obligation of theirs. Again whether they are black or white, red or blue.

As for the past presidents/candidates touted as brilliant or intellectual I would not hesitate to verify them as well. At the time they were active or now. But we are talking about the current guy and his potential replacements and some others from the recent past (who were clearly not touted as brilliant or intellectual).

Do you want me to list all the politicians, past and present, that I want to know all? I think I’ll let you write that list for me, you’re doing a good job already. Just add a few from the other side of the political spectrum.

So I have no problem with verifying the bona fides of any candidate be it Ryan or Paul or Gingrich or Jindal.

Are you happy with non-disclosure? As a lawyer (or so I presume) don’t you want discovery?

Do I think that all will open their lives as fully as I think they should? No, I rarely get what I want, and sometimes not even what I need. But then I’m married with kids.

PG said...

So I have no problem with verifying the bona fides of any candidate be it Ryan or Paul or Gingrich or Jindal.

The fact that you see no difference between your active calls for disclosure by Obama (going so far as to make erroneous claims about the probity of Obama's existing disclosures), and your needing to be prompted to say that you "have no problem with verifying the bona fides" of others, is pretty telling about the authenticity of your desire for equal disclosures by all. There have been many posts about other politicians on this blog on which you have commented; I've never seen one in which you demand the broad-ranging disclosures that you expect from Obama. I think I'll wait for you to do something that demonstrates you're genuinely wanting anyone other than Obama to engage in these disclosures, before I bother discussing this further.

As I've already mentioned, I care more about the Obama Administration's transparency in its operations than I care about Obama's SAT and LSAT scores. The former seriously affects our nation and world; the latter is a matter of grubby, gossipy curiosity and I recognize any interest that I have in it as such. It's the distinction between what's in the public interest, and what the kind of public that enjoys "Real Housewives" finds interesting. (Other "disclosures" that you'd probably want and that also go in this category: when and with whom did Obama lose his virginity? did he consider his mother to have a weight problem? how does his wife relax her hair? how do they discipline their children?)

Creating and receiving discovery requests as a litigator actually does help one realize the difference between relevant documentation in a dispute, and confidential or irrelevant stuff that one wants to see in hopes of finding something to use against the opponent or at least laugh at him about. If the U.S. legal regime (which already has the most permissive discovery demands of any civil litigation system I know of) ran on the "I just wanna know, OK? what're you hiding, huh?" system you're using, Americans would commit suicide upon receiving the complaint.