Many Americans were shocked yesterday when President Obama finally released his long-form birth certificate from the state of Hawaii. The real surprise, however, is that for the past three years, our democratic institutions did not address the matter. The media refused to tackle this issue with the same investigative drive with which they investigated Watergate, President Clinton’s alleged indiscretions and the George W. Bush administration’s missteps in Iraq; the courts declined to hear a single case on the issue; and Congress failed to hold any hearings on the matter.
Perhaps the saddest part of this story is its ending.
Mr. Obama did not release the birth certificate because the media pressured him or because the courts actually listened to one of the many cases that were filed. He released it because an obsessed billionaire threatened his electability in 2012, which forces us to ask the question: What good are our democratic institutions if they don’t stand up for the people?
Journalists did not address the fact that the president was refusing to resolve an issue about his constitutional eligibility. Instead, they covered the “birther” movement in an effort to discredit any American who had a legitimate question.
Mainstream news organizations did not want to get grouped in with “birthers” because they had been compared effectively to the Sept. 11 “truther” movements, and anyone who raised birth-certificate questions was labeled paranoid, crazy and even racist.
However, there’s a big difference between people who just wanted to see Mr. Obama’s birth certificate and those who believe that our own government caused the worst terrorist attack in American history, especially when there already is a mountain of evidence pointing to al Qaeda as the perpetrator. With the Obama birth-certificate issue, the archive of evidence was slim, and his refusal to release the more extensive version of his birth certificate rightfully created more suspicion.
In fact, the Obama birth-certificate issue is more similar to what happened when President Clinton refused to give a straight answer about his indiscretions in the White House. The more the president evaded the issue, the more curious and upset people became.
Americans want to know who their president is, plain and simple - and they have a right to know. Citizens who wanted the issue resolved were frustrated because they felt powerless. The courts declined to hear cases filed, and the Fourth Estate refused to pursue the story to get it resolved. Congress did nothing. The more our institutions remained inactive on the issue, the more powerless we felt and the angrier we became, prompting us to question what good it was to have democratic institutions if they didn’t exercise their power.
The courts repeatedly used the excuse that Americans filing suit in federal court lacked standing to get access to the birth certificate. Although the document may have been a vital health record protected under federal and state law, a higher constitutional issue of the president’s eligibility was at stake. If the people didn’t have standing on that issue, who did?
Our government and Fourth Estate failed America in this case. We, the people of the United States, had a right to resolution on this crucial issue, but no one did anything about it. In the end, the White House only relented because the administration knew it could cost votes and a much more expensive 2012 presidential run for Mr. Obama.
Money, not democracy was the currency that brought this issue to a final resolution.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a former Washington prosecutor.