Obama's "Birther" Strategy Has Backfired
By William A. Jacobson
August 6, 2010
Ever since Hillary Clinton supporters started circulating claims that Obama was not born in the United States, Obama's supporters and strategists have taken a very aggressive posture.
Almost any attempt to discuss the subject is met with a furious response from Media Matters, Think Progress, their progeny in the blogosphere, and the mainstream media.
It that were all there were to the strategy, it would not be so different than strategies a lot of campaigns use to fight what they believe to be smears. The dilemma is that if you engage in the debate, you might give credence to the claims, but if you don't, it's hard to convince people otherwise.
But the strategy has gone far beyond confrontation. Political opponents who do not even question Obama's birthplace are branded "Birthers" as a political tactic.
For example, I documented how during the Brown-Coakley election in Massachusetts, Democratic operatives fabricated the charge that Brown was a "Birther." A similar tactic was used against Sharron Angle. The entire Tea Party movement has been branded "Birthers" by leading Democrats.
As a strategy, the hyper-aggressiveness has been brilliant in the short run. The accusation of being a "Birther" is right up there with the accusation of being a Racist in the Democratic Party's tool kit, and is politically toxic.
But as I wrote in July 2009, and again in February 2010, Obama was misplaying the "Birther" card because the frequency of the strategic accusations merely raised the public consciousness and suggested that Obama was hiding something. Far from disproving the claims of "Birthers," the Obama strategy simply drove the issue below the surface.
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[Ed. William Jacobsen is an Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. He also runs an excellent blog called Le-gal In-sur-rec-tion.]