John Dean, a President Nixon staffer as Watergate was about to unfold, told his boss, "There is a cancer on your presidency."
Would any member of President Obama's staff dare tell him any such thing today?
Watergate was Nixon's 800-pound gorilla everybody talked about, who sat there until he broke the sofa. The location of Obama's birth is an 800-pound gorilla that gets fatter every day and nobody — at least nobody in major media — likes to admit its existence. There's never been a coming-together of factors resembling this one in America's entire political history.
At no point until now has the birthplace of a president been anything more than a local chamber-of-commerce item of pride (where I come, from they're still arguing whether President James Polk was born in Tennessee or North Carolina!). All of a sudden the question of President Obama's birth place threatens to undermine his very eligibility to serve, and to toss America into a constitutional crisis of unfathomable proportions.
In-depth journalism here would instinctively immerse itself in the growing blizzard of lawsuits launched by activists seeking "standing" (Do you have the right to question the president's eligibility to serve?) and writs of certiorari (Hey, Court! Will you please hear this case?). In-depth journalism would detail how many and who in which states are making the pile of challenges zoom.
In-depth journalism would distinguish between the challenges to President Obama's legitimacy on grounds of his alleged birth in Kenya versus his alleged status as a British subject by virtue of his father's citizenship. That's what in-depth journalism would do.
This may sound strange, but I believe this is a time for simple — even superficial — journalism. Let's keep the flight deck as uncluttered as possible and stick to what we all know for sure.
The Constitution insists that the president be a natural-born American. We have the president's paternal grandmother claiming she was present at his birth in Kenya, and we have a TV talk host named Keith Olbermann who tells those who say things like that to put the Reynolds Wrap back on their heads. We have no proof that Grandma was there or that Obama doubters like to wear Reynolds Wrap on their heads.
We know a few facts for certain. And our knowledge is disturbing. We know that President Obama is either covering up the truth of his birthplace or, and this is an Olympic stretch, refusing to offer proof because of some unstated "principle." I recall many college post-midnight bull-sessions debating whether taking the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination was really anything but an admission of guilt bathed in a hoped-for constitutional respectability. The "admission of guilt" side won every time.
The "grandmother-was-there" story really began before the election. The scenario goes as follows: His mother wanted to fly from Kenya to Hawaii so she could give birth in Hawaii, but she was too pregnant to fly. She therefore gave birth in Kenya and later had Barack registered in Hawaii.
We've not been allowed to see the president's birth certificate. Instead we've been offered something nobody ever heard of called a "certificate of live birth" from the state of Hawaii. If all this culminates in the revelation that Barack Obama is not, in fact, eligible to serve as president of the USA, this will go down as his team's biggest mistake. The American people may not be all we used to be, but we're not yet ready to roll over and smile at the sight of a confection designed to masquerade as a birth certificate while we're being angrily denied a look at the real thing.
Do a little thought-experiment. Let's talk "probably." If the president were unjustly accused of being ineligible to serve and the chorus became nationally audible, what would he probably do?
Probably what would happen would be the press secretary would talk to a subordinate five layers down and instruct him to talk to a subordinate another five layers down (the coffee-fetching level) and instruct him to have copies of the president's birth certificate — nothing else, please — printed and made available at the next White House news conference. That's a mosquito swat too small to make anybody's memoirs.
That’s quite far from what's happening.
We're getting nothing but angry cries of "garbage" from the administration whenever anybody dares hint at a problem or even a question. And the entire press corps seems to be in an intimidation hammerlock. Look how successfully the administration has handled this. Not only is the birth certificate issue taboo but also we’re not allowed to see Obama's applications to Columbia and Harvard. Such forms may have inconvenient answers to questions like, "Citizenship?” "Place of birth?" etc. Yet none of the working reporters dares say anything about any of this. And if one ever did, he would be pounced upon and devoured, not by the administration piranhas, but by their own brother and sister journalists.
How can the White House press corps refrain from any such questioning and then look at their faces in a mirror while shaving or applying mascara?
Disclosure: I don't care where an American president was born. I do care about the Constitution. A businessman who keep two sets of books goes to jail. It's worse when a country lists which laws we must obey and which we're free to ignore.
In the fairy tale, a 6-year-old boy brought the regime down by saying, "The emperor has no clothes!"
Trouble is, they don't allow 6-year-olds in White House news conferences.
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