So it’s all over. President Obama has released his birth certificate. He was born in the U.S.A. Has Birtherism been delivered a deathblow? Unfortunately, no. Birtherism is a matter of toxic faith and therefore unrelated to the laws of evidence and objectivity. Like 9/11 Trutherism, it will be folded permanently into the paranoid fringe of American political culture, inspiring pamphlets, online videos, and low-I.Q. conventions for evermore.
But Obama’s releasing of the birth certificate will accomplish several things, all of them good. First, Birtherism’s seepage into the mainstream is no more. Whatever curiosity it inspired in regular folks who didn’t have the time or inclination to play amateur detective was fed by the simple fact of there being no certificate. With the so-called “long form” now available, continued speculation is the exclusive province of fevered minds. Second, American political debate will now focus on the vitally pressing concerns of the day: the debt, the economy, unemployment, and upheaval in the greater Middle East. As a media phenomenon, Birtherism was an escapist fantasy that diverted our attention from scary challenges and tough choices. But now is no time for escapism. Last, Donald Trump is sidelined. He can walk around bragging that he forced the president to act. But getting the most powerful man in the world to conclusively disprove your central talking point is not exactly a masterstroke. It’s more like luring a retired champion out of retirement to knock you out in the first round. It is a spectacular own goal. The U.S. has been scoring enough of those lately. We hardly need a President Trump to bring his personal expertise to the task.