April 27, 2011 11:18 am ET - by Matt Finkelstein
For the past few years, many of President Obama's detractors on the right have trafficked in baseless conspiracy theories about the president's birthplace. Despite overwhelming evidence that Obama was born in Hawaii, members of the "birther" movement have invented countless reasons to claim otherwise. Most recently, Donald Trump made questioning the president's citizenship the centerpiece of his budding presidential campaign, vaulting him to the top of the field. According to recent polls, close to half of GOP voters believe Obama was not born in America.
Today, in an unusual move intended to put the doubts to rest, the White House released Obama's long form birth certificate. (Obama's short form certificate of live birth was released in 2008.) Shortly thereafter, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) appeared on Fox News where, remarkably, he criticized the president for giving attention to the matter.
BILL HEMMER (HOST): What do you make of all this birth certificate questioning?
CANTOR: You know, Bill, I have criticized members of my own party for making this some kind of an issue, and so I'm really surprised that the White House is actually doing the same. You know, we've, as you say, we've got a lot of things swirling right now. You've got gas prices over four dollars a gallon, you've got over 14 trillion dollars in debt in this country we're trying to deal with, you've got unemployment that's still stuck up around nine percent. How in the world is this now the issue we ought to be focusing on? And again, if the White House press secretary says that this is a side show, why aren't we treating it as such and dealing with the bigger issues?
HEMMER: So, you think the White House is actually giving it more credence than it should?
CANTOR: Absolutely. Again, I've said all along, this is an issue that does not belong in the debate. There are much more important issues for us to be dealing with, obviously.
Cantor's ability to turn any issue into a partisan attack unparalleled (he once blamed Democrats for Nazi imagery at a Tea Party rally), but this is really shameless. Obama isn't responsible for making his birthplace a topic of debate; this is an issue because Republicans, afraid of alienating their far-right base, allowed it to be.
In addition to a "birther bill" sponsored by 13 House Republicans, influential conservatives like Mike Huckabee have embraced fictional accounts of Obama's past. Other Republican leaders, including Cantor, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), have quietly rejected the conspiracy theories but have repeatedly declined to denounce the conservatives propagating them.
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