It's not every day that the President of the United States feels compelled to address what he describes as "sideshows and carnival barkers."
Yet that's exactly what Barack Obama did Wednesday morning, releasing a detailed version of his birth certificate and urging Americans not to be distracted by the "silliness" of questions about where he was born.
It took only minutes for the carnival's main impresario, New York real estate mogul Donald Trump, to claim full credit.
"Today I'm very proud of myself because I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish," Mr. Trump said after landing by helicopter in New Hampshire. "I am really honoured, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully, hopefully, getting rid of this issue."
Not that Mr. Trump is abandoning his strategy of insinuating ominous things about the President and hoping the spotlight follows. He also told reporters that he had heard Mr. Obama was a mediocre student who didn't deserve admission to two Ivy League universities, Columbia and Harvard, and called on him to produce his college transcripts.
For weeks, Mr. Trump has amplified the claims of so-called "birthers" - those who cling to the idea that Mr. Obama was born overseas, most likely in Kenya, and therefore ineligible to be president under the U.S. Constitution.
The fact that the White House felt the need to address a conspiracy theory that has simmered on the fringe of American politics since 2008 is unusual enough. Stranger still is the fact that Mr. Trump has stumbled on a successful recipe for attracting attention, though to what end remains unclear.
Mr. Trump says he'll make a decision about whether to enter the fray for the Republican nomination for president by June (his television show, Celebrity Apprentice, wraps up its current season at the end of May).
Political observers scoff at the idea of Mr. Trump as an actual candidate. His goading of Mr. Obama is "schoolyard stuff," says Douglas Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at the City University of New York. "This is a person who's running for president of the United States, and it's 'liar, liar, pants on fire'?"
Mr. Obama's "long form" birth certificate shows what was already clear in the shorter version and in repeated affirmations by state officials in Hawaii: the President was born in a Honolulu hospital on Aug. 4, 1961. Hawaii doesn't normally release such documents, but did so at the President's request.
In a brief statement Wednesday morning, Mr. Obama urged Americans to focus on the challenges that lie ahead. "We live in a serious time right now," he said. "We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We've got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do."
The White House's announcement opened the door to more irreverent takes on Mr. Trump, known as much for his yellow mane as his punchy slogans ("you're fired," "think big and kick ass").
"At this point I think it's only fair that Trump give us some proof that his hair is real," wrote Trey Wingo, an ESPN television host, on Twitter.
Questioning Mr. Obama's birthplace isn't Mr. Trump's only provocative notion. In recent weeks, he has railed against China and Saudi Arabia and argued that the United States should seize Iraq's oil fields.
Mr. Trump "has a commodity that political candidates would kill for and that is widespread recognition," says John Faso, a lawyer and former Republican candidate for governor of New York. For him to focus on Mr. Obama's birthplace and "on crazy notions that we can tax Chinese imports to cover our national debt is kind of stunning. He will not be the nominee, nor should he be."
A McClatchy-Marist poll conducted earlier this month found Mr. Trump in third place among possible candidates in a Republican primary, behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, but ahead of one-time Alaska governor Sarah Palin.Report Typo/Error