Wolraich: Obama at the Gates of... Gates
Dr. C: In Praise of Writing Binges
Maiello: Gatsby Doesn't Grate
So, Barack Obama has given in to the birther lunatics -- or rather, to their enablers in the national press -- and released his long-form birth certificate. Which of course, won't stop the lunatic birthers. But it's not clear that Obama actually intends it to. This is in many ways a classic Obama move. Obama does seem justly and genuinely exasperated with the press corps, but he also likes to position himself as the reasonable alternative to unreasonable opponents.
More vexingly, at least on the surface, the timing of the release gives aid and comfort to Donald Trump, who is already taking credit for the release. That's very annoying, in that it feeds the national media's silly obsession with Trump and prolongs The Donald's free-media "campaign" for the presidency. It even makes it more likely that Trump will actually put his big money where is bigger mouth is, and attempt to get on primary ballots. He's riding high, and the media is stoking his already-formidable self-regard. If Trump's grandiosity is sufficiently cultivated, he may decide that the White House is his for the spending, and start staffing up.
That result, as I say, would very annoying. But that doesn't mean Obama would be displeased. If the White House just released a document that seems to validate Donald Trump's candidacy, we might consider that the Obama people want to validate Donald Trump's candidacy.
There's a saying that Obama's been extremely lucky in his opponents. And that's true. But it hasn't always been luck. He's shown a talent for attracting such opponents, and for subtly goading them into self-immolation. And he's certainly developed an appreciation for the pleasures of campaigning against a turbulent freakshow of an opponent.
Donald Trump is the media freakshow personified. He's been doing reality TV since before reality TV was invented. He's spent decades making himself ridiculous on camera, and his special gift as a media star is his utter inability to realize how silly he is. The joke is on Donald, and the funny part is that he isn't in on it. He is not a serious candidate. He's not a serious anything. And if someone decided to run negative ads on Trump, the sheer wealth of material boggles of mind. Only another narcissistic buffoon could believe, even for a second, that people would vote for someone like Trump. That any media figures floated the idea only shows that they are doing entertainment and not news.
Trump would be a dream opponent for Obama, a kind of white Alan Keyes. But more interestingly, he could be a monumental headache for Republican hopefuls in the primaries. If he actually took even a half-serious run in the primaries, he could make advertising in the earlier states crazy expensive. He's certainly capable of wasting a hundred million dollars, even if he doesn't actually have that much money to waste. And even if he doesn't run, he sucks up media oxygen that other candidates need, and he makes it even harder to placate the crazy part of the base by pandering to them so shamelessly. (Maybe you could say that The Donald is giving cover to the other Republicans by keeping them from press scrutiny. But the press doesn't do serious scrutiny any more. And if they do find a mini-scandal about a candidate not named Trump, the later it breaks the more it hurts.) Good luck trying to build name recognition when the TV is obsessing about Trump like he's a royal bride. And good luck trying to get past the crazy conspiracy theories in the primaries when Trump and the cable news hover over them like flies on a horse apple.
Obama's deepest political instinct is to pose as the reasonable centrist, so that the other side has to either make a deal with him or risk looking crazy. This can be frustrating because it leads him to make deals again, and again, in order to perform his "reasonableness," even when the question should be out of doubt. Releasing yet another form of his birth certificate is like his various compromises over health care and the budget: splitting a difference that he long ago split. But where this should pay dividends is when the other side refuses to take the deal. Barack Obama didn't release his long-form birth certificate to prove that he was born in Hawaii. He released it to prove that the doubters are too insane to care about proof.
What messes with this strategy is a press corps which is fundamentally unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality any more, a group that takes both reasonable and insane positions as equally valid, and presents them as equivalent. They can't tell a serious budget position from a cooked one. They can't bring themselves to cover national news instead of conspiracy theories. Almost nine percent of the country is out of work, at a minimum, and they want to talk about birth certificates. They have absolutely no idea how crazy they sound. Obama isn't just fighting the Republicans. He's fighting the press. What he needs to do is communicate past them to the American people, who actually care about actual things.
The question for the next two years is this. Will the real world pop the media bubble at last? Or will they manage to distort the debate so much that the voters lose touch with reality?