WASHINGTON—In a surreal moment in US political history, President Barack Obama Wednesday released his birth certificate and slammed rumors that he was not American born as distracting "silliness."
Obama tried to quash conspiracy theories that have raged since he was a little-known candidate, which are gaining traction again, fanned by figures like billionaire mogul Donald Trump as the 2012 White House race begins.
In a moment when the modern media culture of online rumor and reality shows clashed with the somber pageantry of the presidency, Obama appeared behind a podium in the White House briefing room to address Americans.
"I'm speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press," Obama said, branding the row as a distraction from serious issues.
"We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We've got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do," Obama said as television networks broke into regular programming to cover the statement live.
The US Constitution specifies that presidents and vice presidents must be "natural born" citizens of the United States and conservative pundits have fanned the controversy to raise questions about Obama's political legitimacy.
The rumors have morphed from the right-wing political fringe into the center of the US political debate: a recent CBS/New York Times poll found a quarter of Americans incorrectly thought Obama was not US-born.
But the president, who confessed he was bemused and puzzled by the controversy, said that America faced "monumental" choices on reviving the economy and hot-button issues like rising gas prices squeezing consumers.
"We're not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We're not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other," he said, in an apparent attempt to elevate America's bruising political debate.
"We're not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts.”
Later, on an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's talk show, Obama warned Americans must not be "distracted by sideshows" – and in an apparent reference to Trump – slammed "carnival barkers who are going around trying to get attention instead of actually solving the problems."
The White House released an official long-form copy of Obama's birth certificate, which his legal counsel had traveled to his native state of Hawaii to collect, after Obama applied for an official waiver for it to be released.
The document, kept for years in Hawaii's official records, showed that "Barack Hussein Obama II" was born on August 4, 1961 at 7.24 pm in Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological hospital in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.
It listed his parents as Stanley Ann Dunham, 18, from Wichita, Kansas and Barack Hussein Obama, 25, from Kenya.
Previously, the 2008 Obama presidential campaign had released a short-form computerized abstract of the kind issued to any Hawaiian when they ask for a copy of their birth certificate.
Trump, the property mogul and reality television star mulling a Republican presidential run has in recent weeks raised questions about Obama's birthplace, in an apparent bid to court the party's radical conservative base.
"I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish," Trump said in the political bellwether state of New Hampshire, which will host an early 2012 Republican party nominating contest.
"I was just informed while on the helicopter that our president has finally released a birth certificate. I want to look at it, but I hope it's true."
"I am really honored frankly to have played such a big role in getting rid of this issue," said Trump, who is famed for telling losing contestants "You're Fired" on his television reality show "The Celebrity Apprentice."
Rush Limbaugh, the high priest of conservative talk radio said on his show Wednesday that Obama's decision to release his birth certificate was driven by his declining opinion poll ratings.
"What it really shows, and this is going to irritate a lot of people, (it) shows Trump's ability to connect with average voters in a way that no one else has been able to connect on this.
"We have a reality star that has forced Obama's hand on the birth certificate."
Republicans, despite the fact that sections of their membership have been challenging Obama on the issue, said that the president had been wrong to raise it.
"As I've repeatedly stated, this issue is a distraction," said Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
"Unfortunately (the president's) campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him from our number one priority – our economy."
Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin weighed in on Twitter: "Media: admit it, Trump forced the issue," she said.
Likely 2012 Republican hopeful Mitt Romney also turned to Twitter, declaring: "What President Obama should really be releasing is a jobs plan."
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