Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 28, 2011

How the Smartest President Ever Becomes a One-Term President

The news for the nation and the president continues to get worse.

Today we learned that in the first quarter of this year total economic output for the country grew by an anemic 1.8 percent. This was a significant slowdown from the fourth quarter of 2010, when the growth was 3.1 percent, which was itself unimpressive, especially in the aftermath of a recession, when one would expect growth to be much more robust.

In addition, as Alana points out, the number of jobless claims increased by 25,000 to 429,000 last week (the third week in a row unemployment claims surpassed 400,000). Consumer prices were up 3.8 percent from last year (after increasing only 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010). The price of gas is 35 percent higher than a year ago. The dollar continues to decline, with the Dollar Index sliding to an almost three-year low. And real estate experts are predicting that home prices could decrease by between 10 to 25 percent before the market bottoms out.

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The news for the nation and the president continues to get worse.

Today we learned that in the first quarter of this year total economic output for the country grew by an anemic 1.8 percent. This was a significant slowdown from the fourth quarter of 2010, when the growth was 3.1 percent, which was itself unimpressive, especially in the aftermath of a recession, when one would expect growth to be much more robust.

In addition, as Alana points out, the number of jobless claims increased by 25,000 to 429,000 last week (the third week in a row unemployment claims surpassed 400,000). Consumer prices were up 3.8 percent from last year (after increasing only 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010). The price of gas is 35 percent higher than a year ago. The dollar continues to decline, with the Dollar Index sliding to an almost three-year low. And real estate experts are predicting that home prices could decrease by between 10 to 25 percent before the market bottoms out.

Not coincidentally, a new McClatchy-Marist poll shows that 57 percent of registered voters disapprove of President Obama’s economic management while only 40 percent approve, the lowest score of his presidency. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say the worst is yet to come for the U.S economy. And 71 percent said the nation is still in a recession (the recession officially ended in June 2009).

In a Gallup poll, 29 percent said the economy is in a depression while 26 percent said it is in a recession, with another 16 percent saying it is “slowing down.” The Gallup Economic Confidence Index is as low as it’s been since the height of the Great recession. According to the New York Times/CBS News poll, 70 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the nation is in decline. As David Brooks wrote earlier this week, “The country is anxious, pessimistic, ashamed, helpless and defensive.”

And in a Quinnipiac poll that must have sent shivers up and down the spines of Obama’s political advisers, in Pennsylvania—a state Obama carried by double digits not quite two-and-a-half years ago—the president’s approval rating is down to 42 percent.

Obama will not win reelection if he loses Pennsylvania.

What is happening is a series of interrelated developments. Many of the objective economic conditions of the country are getting worse. The country’s mood is darkening. And support for the president, and especially his policies, is dropping to dangerously low levels.

The president can hold as many town halls as he wants. He can attack Republicans to his heart’s content. He may be, as his supporters insist, hyper-rational, the very model of the complex, nuanced thinker, perhaps even “the smartest guy ever to become president.” He can be charming on Oprah. He can do lots of things. But one thing he cannot do is escape the consequences of his actions. And if the economy remains flat on its back—if things don’t pick up significantly between now and the summer of 2012—then the odds are quite high that we’re looking at a one-term president.

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Condescending to the People He Claims to Support

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein studies the guest list for President Obama’s highly-publicized immigration reform meeting with Hispanic leaders today:

Among the attendees highlighted by the White House as it works to address this serious national problem: actresses Eva Longoria, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson; musician Emilio Estefan; model and television personality Lily Estefan; Univision hosts Maria Elena Salinas and Don Francisco; Telemundo anchors Vanessa Hauc and Jose Diaz-Balart; television host Barbara Bermudo and radio host Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo.

The White House has recently been playing lip service to immigration reform to woo back disillusioned Latino voters, but it’s shown little interest in actually getting policies passed. Ruben Navarrette Jr. tears down Obama’s strategy:

That Obama now says it is time to restart the battle for comprehensive immigration reform must only mean one thing: Someone is getting ready to run for re-election. . . . Obama may not be a good leader but he has good timing: ramp up immigration reform groups in the spring; work with congressional leaders to draft legislation in the summer; propose a bill in the fall. Then he can spend early winter watching Republicans tear apart the idea—and themselves—in time for the New Hampshire primary in February 2012. Obama can waltz through next year’s campaign with the confidence that he’ll do fairly well with Latinos who will show up to vote not for him but against the Republican candidate.

The fact that Obama spent the past two years practically ignoring this issue should tell you how much he actually cares about it. Bringing immigration reform up now that it has no shot—and for such a transparently political reason—is condescending and insulting to the same people the president claims to support.

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein studies the guest list for President Obama’s highly-publicized immigration reform meeting with Hispanic leaders today:

Among the attendees highlighted by the White House as it works to address this serious national problem: actresses Eva Longoria, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson; musician Emilio Estefan; model and television personality Lily Estefan; Univision hosts Maria Elena Salinas and Don Francisco; Telemundo anchors Vanessa Hauc and Jose Diaz-Balart; television host Barbara Bermudo and radio host Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo.

The White House has recently been playing lip service to immigration reform to woo back disillusioned Latino voters, but it’s shown little interest in actually getting policies passed. Ruben Navarrette Jr. tears down Obama’s strategy:

That Obama now says it is time to restart the battle for comprehensive immigration reform must only mean one thing: Someone is getting ready to run for re-election. . . . Obama may not be a good leader but he has good timing: ramp up immigration reform groups in the spring; work with congressional leaders to draft legislation in the summer; propose a bill in the fall. Then he can spend early winter watching Republicans tear apart the idea—and themselves—in time for the New Hampshire primary in February 2012. Obama can waltz through next year’s campaign with the confidence that he’ll do fairly well with Latinos who will show up to vote not for him but against the Republican candidate.

The fact that Obama spent the past two years practically ignoring this issue should tell you how much he actually cares about it. Bringing immigration reform up now that it has no shot—and for such a transparently political reason—is condescending and insulting to the same people the president claims to support.

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A School at the Behest of an Authoritarian Government

The United Arab Emirates has been cracking down hard on dissent recently, arresting six democratic activists earlier this month and replacing the entire board of a leading civil rights group with government appointees. It is understandable, then, that students at Vanderbilt University are appalled that the school is considering opening a campus in Abu Dhabi.

David Pasch and Theodore Samets are the two Vanderbilt seniors reportedly leading the campaign again the administration’s proposal. “Establishing a school at the behest of an authoritarian government that suppresses free speech and violates human rights is not a good idea,” Pasch told Sohrab Ahmari at RFE/RL. “It doesn’t reflect any of the goals of this institution.”

And while the Vanderbilt administration has assured students that their free speech and internet access wouldn’t be restricted, Ahmari reports that other Western universities with campuses in the UAE have found themselves becoming government targets:

Pasch and Samets are right to be concerned. [University of Paris IV] Sorbonne and the Abu Dhabi regime presumably exchanged similar goodwill promises at the outset of their joint venture. But that didn’t stop U.A.E. officials from arresting Nasser bin Gaith, an economist and lecturer at Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi campus, for advocating judicial reform. That move left Samer Muscatti, an U.A.E. researcher at HRW speaking to the Chronicle of Higher Education, wondering: “Are professors only protected in the 90 minutes when they are giving seminars, and after that they are fair game?”

In fact, the restrictions may be even worse for Vanderbilt, since its proposed UAE campus would display the Vanderbilt brand but would be run independently—which means that the university would have even less control over the campus governance.

More information on the campaign and information about getting involved can be found at the group’s Facebook page Students Against Vanderbilt in the Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates has been cracking down hard on dissent recently, arresting six democratic activists earlier this month and replacing the entire board of a leading civil rights group with government appointees. It is understandable, then, that students at Vanderbilt University are appalled that the school is considering opening a campus in Abu Dhabi.

David Pasch and Theodore Samets are the two Vanderbilt seniors reportedly leading the campaign again the administration’s proposal. “Establishing a school at the behest of an authoritarian government that suppresses free speech and violates human rights is not a good idea,” Pasch told Sohrab Ahmari at RFE/RL. “It doesn’t reflect any of the goals of this institution.”

And while the Vanderbilt administration has assured students that their free speech and internet access wouldn’t be restricted, Ahmari reports that other Western universities with campuses in the UAE have found themselves becoming government targets:

Pasch and Samets are right to be concerned. [University of Paris IV] Sorbonne and the Abu Dhabi regime presumably exchanged similar goodwill promises at the outset of their joint venture. But that didn’t stop U.A.E. officials from arresting Nasser bin Gaith, an economist and lecturer at Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi campus, for advocating judicial reform. That move left Samer Muscatti, an U.A.E. researcher at HRW speaking to the Chronicle of Higher Education, wondering: “Are professors only protected in the 90 minutes when they are giving seminars, and after that they are fair game?”

In fact, the restrictions may be even worse for Vanderbilt, since its proposed UAE campus would display the Vanderbilt brand but would be run independently—which means that the university would have even less control over the campus governance.

More information on the campaign and information about getting involved can be found at the group’s Facebook page Students Against Vanderbilt in the Emirates.

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The Media Demand that Daniels Take Their Test

Gov. Mitch Daniels will decide today whether to sign a bill cutting off public funding from Planned Parenthood, which would make Indiana the first state in the union to do so. Some media outlets are dubbing his decision a test of Daniels’s proposed “truce” on social conservative issues.

Here’s how the media-administered test works. If Daniels signs the bill he will be “breaking” his so-called truce. But if he vetoes the bill he will face the wrath of social conservatives and widen the “divide” in the conservative movement. It’s a lose-lose situation, conveniently arranged by the same media that are always prepared to trip up conservative politicians.

“It’s a tough line to walk for Daniels, who, as a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, needs to prove his conservative chops,” writes TPM Muckraker. “He’s faced heated criticism on the right for calling for a ‘truce’ on social issues and suggesting lawmakers focus on fiscal matters instead.”

Not to be a stickler or anything, but couldn’t public funding be characterized as a “fiscal matter”? The idea that this is a test for Daniels is more than slightly ridiculous, and he shouldn’t—he probably won’t—let it influence his decision. Defunding Planned Parenthood has been a goal of small-government conservatives for quite awhile, and they would be just as disappointed as values voters if Daniels vetoes the bill.

There is no reason for Daniels even to give the socially conservative argument for stripping Planned Parenthood’s funding. He need merely repeat what he told Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard last June: “I want citizens to understand,” he said. “When people start demanding we spend more money, they’re saying, ‘We want to raise your taxes.’ And the citizens should say, ‘Okay, tell me. Which one of my taxes do you want to raise?’ ” Liberals can then interpret his decision however they want.

Gov. Mitch Daniels will decide today whether to sign a bill cutting off public funding from Planned Parenthood, which would make Indiana the first state in the union to do so. Some media outlets are dubbing his decision a test of Daniels’s proposed “truce” on social conservative issues.

Here’s how the media-administered test works. If Daniels signs the bill he will be “breaking” his so-called truce. But if he vetoes the bill he will face the wrath of social conservatives and widen the “divide” in the conservative movement. It’s a lose-lose situation, conveniently arranged by the same media that are always prepared to trip up conservative politicians.

“It’s a tough line to walk for Daniels, who, as a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, needs to prove his conservative chops,” writes TPM Muckraker. “He’s faced heated criticism on the right for calling for a ‘truce’ on social issues and suggesting lawmakers focus on fiscal matters instead.”

Not to be a stickler or anything, but couldn’t public funding be characterized as a “fiscal matter”? The idea that this is a test for Daniels is more than slightly ridiculous, and he shouldn’t—he probably won’t—let it influence his decision. Defunding Planned Parenthood has been a goal of small-government conservatives for quite awhile, and they would be just as disappointed as values voters if Daniels vetoes the bill.

There is no reason for Daniels even to give the socially conservative argument for stripping Planned Parenthood’s funding. He need merely repeat what he told Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard last June: “I want citizens to understand,” he said. “When people start demanding we spend more money, they’re saying, ‘We want to raise your taxes.’ And the citizens should say, ‘Okay, tell me. Which one of my taxes do you want to raise?’ ” Liberals can then interpret his decision however they want.

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Obama Laughs, Unemployment Climbs

“So today was a fun day,” President Obama laughed at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York City last night. “[N]obody checked my ID at the door.”

Maybe it was fun for him. But while President Obama was handling the crucial national business of releasing his birth certificate, holding dueling press conferences with reality star Donald Trump, and jetting to Chicago for The Oprah Winfrey Show yesterday, the Department of Labor was readying a new batch of demoralizing economic reports.

Economic growth slowed significantly in the first quarter, and the number of jobless claims shot up by 25,000 to 429,000 last week, according to the department. For three weeks in a row now, unemployment claims surpassed 400,000.

Taking trips to lavish, big-city fundraisers is fun. Sparring with a clownish reality-show host is fun. Lounging on Oprah’s set is fun. But if the jobless rate this week is anything like last week’s, then yesterday probably wasn’t fun for the more than 61,000 Americans who are filing for unemployment benefits for the first time. And it’s time for Obama to get serious.

“So today was a fun day,” President Obama laughed at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York City last night. “[N]obody checked my ID at the door.”

Maybe it was fun for him. But while President Obama was handling the crucial national business of releasing his birth certificate, holding dueling press conferences with reality star Donald Trump, and jetting to Chicago for The Oprah Winfrey Show yesterday, the Department of Labor was readying a new batch of demoralizing economic reports.

Economic growth slowed significantly in the first quarter, and the number of jobless claims shot up by 25,000 to 429,000 last week, according to the department. For three weeks in a row now, unemployment claims surpassed 400,000.

Taking trips to lavish, big-city fundraisers is fun. Sparring with a clownish reality-show host is fun. Lounging on Oprah’s set is fun. But if the jobless rate this week is anything like last week’s, then yesterday probably wasn’t fun for the more than 61,000 Americans who are filing for unemployment benefits for the first time. And it’s time for Obama to get serious.

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Democrats Take On Public Employee Unions

Massachusetts Democrats have now joined Republicans in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere in taking on public employee union benefits. Last night, the Democrat-controlled House voted 111 to 42 to strip teachers, police, and other municipal workers of their right to bargain over health care. The measure doesn’t go nearly as far as the GOP-sponsored efforts to limit public employee bargaining rights in other states, but it marks the first time Democrats have tackled the issue. And the unions are not happy. Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, told the Boston Globe:

It’s pretty stunning. . . . These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions. . . . It’s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.

The measure could still die in the Massachusetts Senate.  Nonetheless, such a move would have been unthinkable for Democrats anywhere even a year ago.

Massachusetts Democrats have now joined Republicans in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere in taking on public employee union benefits. Last night, the Democrat-controlled House voted 111 to 42 to strip teachers, police, and other municipal workers of their right to bargain over health care. The measure doesn’t go nearly as far as the GOP-sponsored efforts to limit public employee bargaining rights in other states, but it marks the first time Democrats have tackled the issue. And the unions are not happy. Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, told the Boston Globe:

It’s pretty stunning. . . . These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions. . . . It’s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.

The measure could still die in the Massachusetts Senate.  Nonetheless, such a move would have been unthinkable for Democrats anywhere even a year ago.

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Palestinian “Unity Government” Gets Bad Reviews

The Obama administration has issued subdued criticism of the “unity government” agreement between Fatah and Hamas, but so far the president hasn’t given much indication of what penalties (if any) the Palestinian Authority would face if it continues to pursue this route.

Cutting off aid would be a good start. Last night Sen. Mark Kirk tweeted his apparent support for this type of action: “Hamas+Fatah=probable suspension of US aid to Palestinian Authority…Hamas supports terror, killed 26 American citizens[.]”

Members of congress also issued calls for aid restrictions. “U.S. taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten U.S. security, our interests, and our vital ally, Israel,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement yesterday evening.

“A unity government with Hamas would put U.S. assistance and support at risk, based on restrictions I authored as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations,” said Nita Lowey, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Aid Committee. Rep. Gary Ackerman issued a statement that the U.S. would be “compelled by both law and decency” to withhold aid.

Not only would a unity government with Hamas undercut peace efforts, the U.S. would be sending taxpayer money to a terrorist organization. These statements from lawmakers represent the minimum of what we should be doing to prevent this action from going forward. Expect more members of congress to join this call.

The Obama administration has issued subdued criticism of the “unity government” agreement between Fatah and Hamas, but so far the president hasn’t given much indication of what penalties (if any) the Palestinian Authority would face if it continues to pursue this route.

Cutting off aid would be a good start. Last night Sen. Mark Kirk tweeted his apparent support for this type of action: “Hamas+Fatah=probable suspension of US aid to Palestinian Authority…Hamas supports terror, killed 26 American citizens[.]”

Members of congress also issued calls for aid restrictions. “U.S. taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten U.S. security, our interests, and our vital ally, Israel,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement yesterday evening.

“A unity government with Hamas would put U.S. assistance and support at risk, based on restrictions I authored as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations,” said Nita Lowey, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Aid Committee. Rep. Gary Ackerman issued a statement that the U.S. would be “compelled by both law and decency” to withhold aid.

Not only would a unity government with Hamas undercut peace efforts, the U.S. would be sending taxpayer money to a terrorist organization. These statements from lawmakers represent the minimum of what we should be doing to prevent this action from going forward. Expect more members of congress to join this call.

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The Israeli-Palestinian Streetlight

In a recent Financial Times op-ed, Brent Scowcroft writes, “The nature of the new Middle East cannot be known until the festering sore of the occupied territories is removed.”

This is an absurd claim. Whatever one thinks of the settlements, the Arab Spring has shown that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not—as people like Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, have been arguing for years now—at the core of the troubles plaguing the Arab Middle East. The so-called “occupation” is not the obstacle to free and flourishing Arab societies. It is not the irritant that is causing unrest within Arab societies. In fact, what is striking about the revolution sweeping the Arab world is how totally beside the point Israel is. The uprisings in Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere are driven not by animus toward Israeli or solidarity for the Palestinian cause; they are a reaction against Arab despotism. What is happening in the Middle East, in fact, utterly undermines Scowcroft’s thesis. But Scowcroft is wed to a theory he embraced long ago and has hermetically sealed off from evidence. Bad theories, like bad habits, die hard. Maybe harder.

I’m reminded of the joke about the police officer who finds a drunk man late at night crawling on his hands and knees on a sidewalk under a streetlight. When confronted by the police officer, the drunk tells him he’s looking for his wallet. When the police officer asks if he’s sure that he dropped the wallet under the streetlight, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. The puzzled officer asks why the man is looking for the wallet under the streetlight. “Because the light’s better here,” the drunk man replies.

For Brent Scowcroft and those who think like him, the light is always better around the Israeli-Palestinian settlements streetlight, even if the truth lies elsewhere.

In a recent Financial Times op-ed, Brent Scowcroft writes, “The nature of the new Middle East cannot be known until the festering sore of the occupied territories is removed.”

This is an absurd claim. Whatever one thinks of the settlements, the Arab Spring has shown that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not—as people like Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, have been arguing for years now—at the core of the troubles plaguing the Arab Middle East. The so-called “occupation” is not the obstacle to free and flourishing Arab societies. It is not the irritant that is causing unrest within Arab societies. In fact, what is striking about the revolution sweeping the Arab world is how totally beside the point Israel is. The uprisings in Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere are driven not by animus toward Israeli or solidarity for the Palestinian cause; they are a reaction against Arab despotism. What is happening in the Middle East, in fact, utterly undermines Scowcroft’s thesis. But Scowcroft is wed to a theory he embraced long ago and has hermetically sealed off from evidence. Bad theories, like bad habits, die hard. Maybe harder.

I’m reminded of the joke about the police officer who finds a drunk man late at night crawling on his hands and knees on a sidewalk under a streetlight. When confronted by the police officer, the drunk tells him he’s looking for his wallet. When the police officer asks if he’s sure that he dropped the wallet under the streetlight, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. The puzzled officer asks why the man is looking for the wallet under the streetlight. “Because the light’s better here,” the drunk man replies.

For Brent Scowcroft and those who think like him, the light is always better around the Israeli-Palestinian settlements streetlight, even if the truth lies elsewhere.

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Obama’s Birther Triumph

It is clear that Barack Obama’s strategic cunning in response to birther lunacy ranks among his most impressive political achievements. In facilitating this tour de force, Donald Trump handed Obama a much-needed first gift for the latter’s 2012 campaign.

Imagine it’s early 2009 and you’re the newly elected President Obama. A gaggle of sorry loudmouths are spreading intricate fictions about your parents and your country of origin. The loudmouths are fringy and creepy, as are the conspiracy theorists spawned by every presidency, and you’d be a fool to get into the mud with them. You determine rightly that entertaining that kind of thing is beneath your personal dignity and the dignity of the office.

Only, as time goes on, you notice something remarkable. The media is eager to take those loudmouths and present them as the representatives of all opposition to you and your policies. Without lifting a finger to respond to the lunacy, you enjoy a readymade security shield that takes the sting out of every legitimate charge against you and renders it the sad, baseless delusion of a massive unhinged right wing. (Recently, Leslie Gelb wrote that conservatives critical of Obama’s Libya policy are mere “foreign policy birthers.”) Your predecessor wasn’t provided this kind of service and his conspiracy theorists made millions on hit movies, best-selling books, and top-rated television shows.

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It is clear that Barack Obama’s strategic cunning in response to birther lunacy ranks among his most impressive political achievements. In facilitating this tour de force, Donald Trump handed Obama a much-needed first gift for the latter’s 2012 campaign.

Imagine it’s early 2009 and you’re the newly elected President Obama. A gaggle of sorry loudmouths are spreading intricate fictions about your parents and your country of origin. The loudmouths are fringy and creepy, as are the conspiracy theorists spawned by every presidency, and you’d be a fool to get into the mud with them. You determine rightly that entertaining that kind of thing is beneath your personal dignity and the dignity of the office.

Only, as time goes on, you notice something remarkable. The media is eager to take those loudmouths and present them as the representatives of all opposition to you and your policies. Without lifting a finger to respond to the lunacy, you enjoy a readymade security shield that takes the sting out of every legitimate charge against you and renders it the sad, baseless delusion of a massive unhinged right wing. (Recently, Leslie Gelb wrote that conservatives critical of Obama’s Libya policy are mere “foreign policy birthers.”) Your predecessor wasn’t provided this kind of service and his conspiracy theorists made millions on hit movies, best-selling books, and top-rated television shows.

Where once it was beneath your dignity to respond, it would now also compromise this stellar defense. More time goes on and birtherism takes over the news. There are provocative polls and late-night comedy monologues. There evolves a superstructure of conspiracy, including “reasonable” birthers who believe you were born in the U.S. but are hiding some detail of the document that proves it. There’s a conflation of birthers with Tea Partiers, your most formidable foes. It all seems too good to be true. Yet it’s happening. During your campaign you tried to get something like this going. You said Americans would fear your funny name and non-Founder appearance, but you were swiftly criticized—because, actually, it wasn’t true. But now, a few conspiracy theorists and a handful of media megaphones are doing it all for you. This leaves you free up to do big things. You’re remaking domestic and foreign policy at a rate this country has never seen while the birther narrative swallows up objections. You’re on a policy tear: an auto-industry takeover, a stimulus, health-care reform, financial reform, a shuffling of the international deck. Meanwhile, day and night, in print and on television, your supporters parade maniacs before America and call them the true face of your opposition.

What’s the one thing that could bring the free ride to an end? The birth certificate. Show that, kill the hysteria, and the opposition is seen as principled, sober, thoughtful. Better to sit back and play with the phenomenon. Let it grow and see where it heads. Use it as long as it serves you. Right now it’s a steady crutch, but in time it could be a secret weapon, your ace in the hole. If the question of your birth ever becomes as big as the media has been claiming, pull out the certificate, prove the whole crazy right wrong, and win all over again. You can use the force of birtherism against itself at every turn. It will eat its own until you decide you’ll come off best by exposing the whole thing.

Halfway into your first term, your approval ratings find a new cellar. You’re blindsided by a new foreign war you’re losing without actually fighting. You outline your budget vision and the next day Standard and Poor’s puts the U.S. on notice.

Enter Donald Trump. He thrives in a pop-culture paradigm where idiocy and genius are not opposite values but the twin assets of an electrifying brand. He may be running for leader of the free world, he may be promoting the most vulgar entertainment franchise in history. Who knows? But it’s all addictive national amusement. Trump is a billionaire success story who’s backing the fringy paranoids. He embraces birtherism and runs with it. In PT Barnum’s day, the showman fleeced the sucker; in the age of Donald Trump, Barnum and his sucker are fused into one and the showman still turns a profit. The denser Trump gets the bigger he gets. It’s a smash-hit spinoff. New polls show birtherism gaining serious ground. The news media exaggerated it but the reality TV star popularized it.

It’s time to release the birth certificate.  It takes a single phone call and you look simultaneously like victor and victim; because, in fact, you are both. You hold your best press conference in years and exit to leave everyone rethinking their criticism of you.

Would that Barack Obama were this successful in all his challenges, and all his adversaries as hapless as Donald Trump.

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