Yesterday was one of those really fun days in American politics where the entire country is focussed on an issue of poignant irrelevancy. The rest of the world can see it, the US can see it, yet it is played out as if it was two kids arguing about something in a playground with point scoring by any means possible. And, of course, we know that point was scored yesterday: the birth certificate that we all knew was there was now on the Internet and we could see it. We all knew it was there because if it wasn’t someone would have taken the whole issue to the US courts.
Fortunately, I have become a scholar of 7th grade US history this year so I have a perspective that others do not. First of all, this focussing on an irrelevancy is not new. My favourite is Andrew Jackson who, for all intents and purposes was a bigamist, and who had to fight the two-timer movement for his entire presidency even after losing his second wife soon after taking office. Of course, that issue allowed him to thumb his nose at the Supreme Court and march native Americans across the country without nearly as much fuss. But it happens for every president (Carter with religion, Reagan with age, Bush with Quayle, Clinton with where to start and Bush ditto). The problem with Obama is that it was so hard to find an issue to play this role. The birthers were a consequence of his unblemished record.
Second, there is such an irony about the birther issue. It is usually associated with the term ‘freedom loving’ people but what could be less freedom-loving than to deny someone becoming a duly elected head of state simply because they were not born on the soil of the country? It’s crazy. Australia elected a Prime Minister who wasn’t born here and no one cared less. Then again we have a Head of State who doesn’t even reside in the country. So the entire restriction is ludicrous. It was probably put there because the founding fathers were nervous the experiment might fail and the US people would elect the King of England to be president (something not that far-fetched as revolutions go).
Finally, none of the people promoting the birther movement actually want transparency. Somehow they couldn’t see it. That means more fodder to distract people for months and perhaps years to come. By the end of it, however, no one will care about those embarrassing Facebook pictures when you come to run for president as everything will be exposed as a requirement. The effect of transparency is not necessarily light or information but indifference.