Did Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign start the "birther" controversy? The linked article, in the NYT, says:
During the 2008 Democratic contest, Mrs. Clinton’s senior strategist at one point pondered, in an internal memo that was later leaked, the ways in which Mr. Obama’s personal background differed from many Americans. But contrary to Mr. Trump’s assertion, neither Mrs. Clinton nor her campaign ever publicly questioned Mr. Obama’s citizenship or birthplace, in Hawaii.Is that bait the Clinton campaign should take?
The Clinton campaign signaled on Friday that it does not plan to let Mr. Trump slide on the subject, pointing out that he has falsely claimed that the Democratic nominee was initially responsible for raising the questions and noting that he continued to question Mr. Obama’s birthplace for years after the release of his birth certificate.This is forcing me to go look it up, because I honestly don't know the answer and I would have left this old issue behind. I'm going to read a Breitbart article from a year ago, and then a CNN article from last May. After I've done that, I'll form an opinion about whether Trump or Hillary should want to bring this up now.
From Breitbart, "Bombshell: ‘Washington Post’ Confirms Hillary Clinton Started the Birther Movement." Writing in The Washington Post, David Weigel assessed a March 2007 memo from Clinton campaign strategist, Mark Penn. Here's that memo.
According to that memo, which I'm reading for myself, one of the 4 factors that could hold back Obama was: "Lack of American roots." This was — I've long thought — a powerful argument against Obama, much better than the question of where he might have been born.
Since his mother was an American citizen, most Americans would say that was enough to make him an American citizen by birth, and anything else about "natural born citizen" is an annoying technicality. Much more useful was the cluster of factors that made him seem insufficiently American, and Penn was correct to notice them.
These facts were not subject to question: Obama spent his boyhood in Hawaii and Indonesia. Hawaii is a state, but it's so remote from the rest of America that it made a good contrast to Hillary Clinton. Penn thought that suspicion could be aroused by continual references to her being "born in the middle of America." She was supposed to "own 'American' in our programs, the speeches and values" — "He doesn't." She didn't have to talk about where he was born, just where she was born and where she lived.
According to Weigel, the Penn memo was "a nothingburger." The Breitbart article continues with a discussion of the Clinton campaign's "otherizing" of Obama and Clinton surrogates talking about the birth certificate (mostly, I think, in terms of whether it might show dual citizenship).
Here's the CNN article from last May, "Hillary Clinton was not a 'birther'":
As FactCheck.org reported before, there's no proof Clinton had anything to do with the claims that Obama wasn't born in the United States and thus was ineligible to be president. But while Trump's specific claim against Hillary Clinton is not true, her supporters' hands are not entirely clean.As far as I know... ah, yes! I remember it now. Here's my post about that. I defended Hillary at the time and thought "60 Minutes" was edited to help Obama and hurt Hillary. Back to CNN:
In January 2007, Insight Magazine, a right-wing publication, reported that Clinton's team had questions about Obama's Muslim background. It said that researchers connected to Clinton were spreading the allegation that he spent four years in a madrassa. The Clinton campaign said this was not true.
And back on March 19, 2007, then-Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote a strategy memo to Clinton about Obama. It did not raise the issue of Obama's citizenship. But it did identify Obama's "lack of American roots" as something that "could hold him back."
Reggie Love, the longtime traveling aide to Obama, wrote in his book that Clinton and Obama had a heated conversation about the notion that Clinton supporters were sending emails saying that he was a Muslim.
In a March 2008 interview with "60 Minutes," Clinton said she took then-Sen. Obama's word that he was not a Muslim, but when pressed if she believed he was, she replied, "No. No, there is nothing to base that on -- as far as I know."
What we see in 2008 from Clinton is a subtle stoking of questions about Obama's identity, but she never went as far as Donald Trump did in 2011 in an interview with Fox News.So the question I come down to is: What's really important? The birth certificate itself, or the more general "otherizing" of Obama through portraying him as a Muslim (which leverages Islamophobia)?
"He doesn't have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there's something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don't know. Maybe he doesn't want that," said Trump in the 2011 interview.
Bottom line: Clinton stoked questions about Obama's identity. But Clinton herself never questioned Obama's birth certificate.
To me, it's the latter. If the current Clinton campaign wants us to look closely at the story, I think what we'll see is her cynical use of Islamophobia, which is exactly the deplorable quality she's worked to attribute to Trump. That's the danger inside this story if Hillary chooses to pursue this issue, and it's why, I think, Trump threw out the bait today.