- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Amazing. I have never seen anything like the bizarre spectacle that unfolded yesterday, when the president of the United States was forced by a private citizen - neither a journalist nor (as yet) a politician - to prove his status as natural-born citizen, more than two years after he was elected to the highest office in the land.

No matter how the White House tries to spin this, President Obama has been deeply damaged by this birth-certificate mess, damage that is entirely self-inflicted. If his long-form birth certificate was available to the president all along, why on earth did he not release it years ago? Instead, he stonewalled just enough for the whole matter to appear suspicious to large numbers of Americans, leaving a perfect opening for a skilled opportunist like Donald Trump, who has played the president like a well-worn violin.

Indeed, Mr. Trump positioned Mr. Obama in such a manner that the latter was faced with just two unpalatable choices: 1) Keep the birth certificate under wraps, allowing suspicion to grow and possibly undermine his re-election chances, or 2) cave in to pressure and, by doing so, elevate Mr. Trump (supposedly a clown, remember?) to his level.

In choosing the second of the two options, Mr. Obama thinks he at least has taken away the whole raison d’etre of the presumed Trump candidacy, and perhaps he has. Unfortunately, he also unwittingly has proved one of Mr. Trump’s main critiques of his presidency - that Mr. Obama is weak. Anyone who has listened carefully to Mr. Trump these past weeks has heard him say over and over again that Mr. Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing, that other world leaders (especially China and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) are taking advantage of him, that he is far from the tough, strong leader America needs in these dangerous times. Nothing Mr. Obama has done in response to Mr. Trump has disproved this notion - indeed, quite the contrary.

It is not only the president whom Mr. Trump has made to appear a fool. At his gloating news conference from a tarmac in New Hampshire where he took deserved credit for forcing the president’s hand, Mr. Trump also threw a harsh light at the entire media establishment. He ridiculed them for failing to hold the president to the same standards they apply to everyone else (including Mr. Trump), basically saying to reporters: “I’ve just done the job you should have done three years ago. You’re welcome.”

Whether he will be a serious candidate or not, Mr. Trump has proved three things beyond shadow of a doubt: One, he can move public opinion. The day before Mr. Obama at last released his birth certificate, a USA Today poll found that just 38 percent of Americans thought Mr. Obama “definitely” had been born in America, doubt certainly driven by Mr. Trump’s one-man campaign. Two, he can bully the most powerful man in the world. And three, the media in the United States are a joke, completely uninterested in doing their due diligence by vetting Mr. Obama’s background, though anyone remembering the Dan Rather fiasco will recall that they were happy to invent things about George W. Bush.

I am reminded of the famous commercial from last November’s election wherein Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell announced, “I’m not a witch.” At the time, I thought: If you have to say that, you’ve already lost the argument. Ditto with the president. If, after two years, you’re still trying to persuade a large segment of the electorate that you meet the bare minimum constitutional requirements for legitimacy, you’ve already lost.

Mr. Obama may have at last deflated the issue once and for all, but by waiting so long to do so, he also has raised disturbing questions about his character and judgment. How is that not a defeat?

Matt Patterson is a contributor to “Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation” (HarperCollins, 2010).

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