Barack Obama was the first president to have his birthplace become a national controversy, and now he is the first president to sell merchandise emblazoned with his birth certificate—long form and everything!
The Obama campaign is mocking birthers and raising cash along the way, selling these new "Made in the USA" mugs with a picture of the president and his documentation:
A new campaign email from Julianna Smoot, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, pitches the mugs for a $15 donation. "There’s really no way to make this stuff completely go away," Smoot notes, referring to a new conspiracy book called, Where’s the Birth Certificate? (Couldn’t they have gone with "Dude, Where’s My Birth Certificate.") "The only thing we can do is laugh at it," Smoot tells supporters, "and make sure as many other people as possible are in on the joke."
The timing feels a bit off, however, since the birther controversy peaked in late April, with Donald Trump’s race-baiting non-campaign and the subsequent release of the birth certificate. Back then, in fact, I argued that Obama’s nascent re-election campaign was missing a chance to seize the birther attacks for political organizing. Instead, on the very day the birth certificate was released, the campaign had sent an unrelated email, without even acknowledging the roiling national controversy. That was an unforced error, I argued:
"From a purely strategic political perspective, the mainlining of the birther attack is a major mobilizing opportunity, and it’s the kind of thing [Obama staff] were adept at during the campaign, but have been reticent to do in the OFA/governing period…. Also, the core activists opening these emails are news consumers, this was the big political story, so choosing to send a message like this on such a big day—a day that was even intense and emotional for many supporters and African Americans—without any reference to it makes it feel like the campaign messages are coming from a different planet, rather than providing special information and a direct line to Obamaland."
Author Micah Sifry, co-founder of TechPresident, wrote at the time that the campaign’s resistance to use or mention the birther issue reflect a posture that "was radically different from the days of the Obama campaign." In 2008, Sifry argued, "the campaign stoked supporters passions. Now, they try to temper them."
The new mugs ridicule the conspiracy nuts and race-baiters who form the birther caucus, which is an entirely appropriate response. Still, as the race gears up, Obama’s aides will have to find ways for supporters and organizers with a role for participation and pushback beyond buying merchandise.
Update: Nancy Scola posts analysis and the entire email here.