Andrew Sullivan joins the calls for Obama to release his “original birth certificate”:
So many readers are furious that I have dared to ask the president to show the original copy of his birth certificate. The reason for demanding it is the same reason for demanding basic medical records proving Sarah Palin is the biological mother of Trig.
Because it would make it go away and it’s easily done.
I’m tired of these public officials believing they have some right to privacy. They don’t. It’s the price of public office. If you don’t like it, don’t be president. And for goodness’ sake, don’t run for president on a platform of transparency.
I’m not entirely sure whether to credit Sullivan with good-faith argument here. Hearing Andrew Sullivan flatly deny that public officials have any right to privacy whatsoever is jarring, considering that Sullivan wrote “The Scolds” back in 1998 and vociferously defended both Bill Clinton and Gary Condit during their infidelity scandals on the grounds that, well, public officials have a right to privacy.
It seems easier to believe that Sullivan is simply trying to maintain consistency with his position on Sarah Palin, a parallel that he explicitly acknowledges in this post. Like many people who blog about American politics, I thought that Sullivan went off the rails in response to Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy, when he not only attacked her character and suitability for office (which is a legitimate part of political discourse), but pushed the preposterous theory that Trig was not Palin’s biological child (which is not). Ironically, having made the argument that Palin should release Trig’s birth certificate in order to “clear up the issue”, Sullivan finds himself ill-equipped to respond forcefully when the Birthers make the same argument about Barack Obama.
Let’s set aside the issue of whether there actually is an “original” birth certificate, ie. a 1961-vintage piece of paper that is currently being stored in some secret warehouse in Hawaii. This is less interesting to me than the question of whether Sullivan is actually right. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the “original” birth certificate does exist – is Obama somehow at fault for not releasing it?
I believe the answer is no. I think Sullivan was wrong about Palin, and now he’s compounded the error by taking the wrong position on Obama. In both cases, we have situation where public officials are facing absurd theories for which there is no positive evidence whatsoever. In these cases, politicians need not and should not bend over backwards to satisfy their critics. To do so is to reward the purveyors of conspiracy theories, create a perverse incentive, and place an unfair burden on politicians in which they are somehow obliged to disprove every wild and unsubstantiated accusation that is thrown their way. If Palin and Obama were to follow Sullivan’s advice, the more deranged critics of public officials will be incentivised to continually spin deeper and more intricate conspiracy theories, placing the burden of proof on the politicians to demonstrate their innocence at every turn, and declaring victory whenever the politicians are unable to do so.
There are some theories ought not be indulged as a matter of principle. Obama should not entertain the nonsensical demands of the Birthers, just as Palin was right not to entertain the demands of Andrew Sullivan.