Hillary Didn’t “Start” the Birther Movement, But Her Otherizing of Obama in ’08 Helped Lay the Groundwork

Politics Features Hillary Clinton
Hillary Didn’t “Start” the Birther Movement, But Her Otherizing of Obama in ’08 Helped Lay the Groundwork

On Friday, “Birtherism” began trending on Twitter. Donald Trump had walked back the claims he’d been making for years that Barack Obama was not a natural-born U.S. citizen. In fact, the GOP candidate went further, denying he’d ever made such claims, and blaming Clinton for starting that line of inquiry in 2008, during her primary campaign. “She was all in,” Trump asserted. The Clinton team—both campaign officials and friendly journalists—rushed in to the defense of the Democratic candidate.

Politifact wrote a piece examining the claims. Citing an article from The Telegraph titled “Birther row began with Hillary Clinton supporters,” The Tampa Bay Times‘ fact checker determined that while questions about Obama’s birth location did in fact begin on the Democratic side in 2008, there were no direct ties to Clinton or her campaign.

It’s an interesting bit of history that the birther movement appears to have begun with Democrats supporting Clinton and opposing Obama. But Trump, and others who have made this claim, neglect to mention that there is no direct tie to Clinton or her 2008 campaign.

Charles M. Blow of The New York Times wrote an article titled “Trump, Grand Wizard of Birtherism,” in which he excoriated the “subterranean” candidate for lying about his own support for conspiracy theories, and citing Politifact dismissed the notion that Clinton had anything to do with “birtherism.”

“Donald Trump said Friday: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.”

That was a lie. There is no evidence Hillary Clinton and her campaign either started or took part in the efforts to question the location of Barack Obama’s birth.

Even Michelle Obama got in on the action at a campaign stop in Fairfax, Virginia.

But here again we see the trend of Clinton’s line of attack backfiring. While her campaign might not have questioned Obama’s birthplace, it did try to otherize America’s first black president, during a racially-charged campaign that Clinton ran. From FactCheck.org:

On March 19, 2007, then Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote a strategy memo to Clinton that identified Obama’s “lack of American roots” as something that “could hold him back.” That memo, which was part of campaign documents featured in a September 2008 article in TheAtlantic, cited Obama’s “boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii” as life experiences that made his “basic American values … at best limited.”

…It advised Clinton to contrast her life experiences in middle America “without turning negative.”

This idea of Obama’s otherness was a running theme in Clinton’s campaign. Two Clinton aides allegedly sent a photograph of the now-president dressed as a Somali Elder to The Drudge Report—a move David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager called “shameful offensive fear-mongering.”


On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election. This is part of a disturbing pattern that led her county chairs to resign in Iowa, her campaign chairman to resign in New Hampshire, and it’s exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world.

One of the incidents to which Plouffe was referring was when Judy Rose, the Clinton campaign’s volunteer chair in Jones County, Iowa, was forced to resign after forwarding an email containing following:

Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim…

The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the U.S. from the inside out, what better way to start than at the highest level – through the President of the United States , one of their own!!!!”

Ultimately there was such a perception that her campaign was engaged in questioning Obama’s faith, Clinton was forced to address the rumors in a 60 Minutes interview during the primary. When asked if she believed the then-front-runner was a Muslim, the then-New York Senator gave a noncommittal, ambivalent rejection of the idea laced with qualifications, stating “Of course not…there is no basis for that…I take him on the basis of what he says…there is no reason to doubt that.”

When pressed on her answer, Clinton gave the winking response that she did not believe Sen. Obama was a Muslim because “there is nothing to base that on, as far as I know.”

What this whole “birther” controversy comes down to is that while Trump’s questioning of Obama’s birth certificate and birthplace were disgraceful examples of the long tradition of American racism, and race-baiting in politics, Clinton’s innuendos about and narrative of the president’s otherness in 2008 make her the perfect pot to Trump’s kettle.

And that’s the biggest problem the veteran Democrat faces in this presidential race: She has almost no lines of attack against Trump that don’t leave her vulnerable to the GOP candidate flipping the script.

Earlier last week Hillary Clinton tweeted 20 questions to Donald Trump following her dip in the polls, and a story from Newsweek by Kurt Eichenwald, titled, “How the Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security.” The article and Clinton’s questions centered around the GOP candidate’s business dealings with foreign nations like Russia.

However, here too the attacks carry little weight thanks to what we know of the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton, who is seen as the least transparent and least honest candidate running this year— perceptions she has fed and nurtured with her own decisions to withhold information from the public, even when such information is benign—has also gone after Trump for not releasing his tax returns.

But these calls for greater transparency are unlikely to convince many voters given that two weeks ago, rather than revealing she had been diagnosed with pneumonia, the former Secretary hid her ailment, and collapsed at the 9/11 Memorial.

Progressives, many of whom are considering third party candidates, also remember Clinton’s recalcitrance when called on by her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street and other special interest groups. The former Secretary told Chris Cuomo of CNN that she would release her transcripts “if everybody does it, and that includes the Republicans…Why is there one standard for me, and not for everybody else, Chris?”

The problem, of course, is that she was running a primary against a candidate who did not give such speeches.

The bottom line here is that Hillary Clinton, given her record, is the worst possible candidate to run against Donald Trump. She is the kind of politician the billionaire businessman and TV star got popular contrasting himself with. And that does not bode well for November for Democrats.

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