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DES MOINES, Iowa, Jan. 2, 2008 – Barry Obama stood behind a lectern on a portable stage in the all too appropriately named Waterloo Room of the Downtown Des Moines Marriott and rued the day he had become a Republican.
Obama had spent the last 10 minutes introducing his plan to tackle what he called “America’s most essential challenge,” the breakdown of the family, especially in minority communities, but before he could even ask for questions, Adam Nagourney of the New York Times had shouted out the inevitable, “Where’s the Birth Certificate?”
No wonder Bush had called this guy “a major league A-hole,” Obama mused. Or was it that other Adam from the Times, Adam Clymer? No matter. As far as he could see, all guys named Adam were A-holes, whether they worked at the Times or not.
“I think that over the last year there’s been an effort to go at me in a way that is politically expedient in the short term for Democrats,” Obama answered a tad unconvincingly, even to himself.
“But it creates, I think, a problem for them when they want to actually run in a general election where most people feel pretty confident the first serious black presidential candidate was born where he says he was, in Hawaii. He doesn’t have horns.”
“You didn’t answer the question,” peeped the reporter whom Obama rather ungenerously referred to as “Greenspan’s old lady.” To others, she was known as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
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“And by not answering it,” Mitchell added, “Romney and even Huckabee have blown by you in the polls. The Iowa Caucus is still a few days away. Why not just produce the birth certificate?”
Obama paused, looking puzzled, as though the question caught him fully by surprise. “We’re not really worrying about conspiracy theories or – birth certificates,” he finally countered.
“Are you worrying about your Social Security number?” asked ABC’s Jake Tapper, almost laughing as he asked. “What’s with the Connecticut prefix?”
“How about that Pakistan trip in 1981?” Mitchell chirped. “And what was Brennan’s guy doing in your passport files?”
This was getting out of control. Tapper had begun to call him “Austin Obama, international man of mystery,” and the name was beginning to stick.
“Hey, Austin, how about your LSAT scores, your SATs, your college transcripts, your thesis, your Illinois Bar scores, your client list,” shouted CBS’ Jeff Greenfield in open revolt. “Why is your personal history uniquely off limits?”
“Throw us a crumb,” laughed Nagourney, “your adoption papers, your passport, your medical records, something, anything.”
Now everyone was laughing and joking and shouting absurd questions. “I’d be happy with your T-Ball batting averages,” shouted some impudent yokel from the Des Moines Register.
Obama had enough. He never thought of himself as thin-skinned until that ugly press conference six years ago when he first declared himself a Republican. “Who’d a thunk it?” he said to a decidedly unsympathetic Michelle afterwards. “I thought the media was conservative.”
Truth be told, Obama had never before been tested. Except for a little race-based ribbing in his futile run against Bobby Rush in the 2000 congressional primary and the incessant low-level ragging by Michelle, he had eased through life with scarcely a word of criticism from anyone – that is, until he said adios to the Democrats. Overnight he morphed from Desmond Tutu to Stepin Fetchit. Go figure.
“Get the files,” Obama hissed to Steve Schmidt, his hulking, bullet-headed chief strategist, who was standing on the stage behind him. Schmidt hesitated. This was the Doomsday option.
“You sure?” he said sotto voce.
“You’ve lost every other election you’ve managed,” Obama said impatiently. “I am beginning to see why. Get them and give them out.”
“Barry,” whispered Schmidt. “I give them out, and we blow the whole Dorothy and the goatherd thing, the improbable romance, the multicultural ideal, the shtick that got you here in the first place.”
“That shtick has played out,” Obama muttered. “Get the files.” Schmidt did as instructed, and the rumble from the crowd scaled down into a collective mutter as the reporters raced through what appeared to be the elusive birth certificate and other documents.
“These are photocopies,” Greenfield shouted angrily.
“We need to see the originals,” Tapper added indignantly.
“Seattle?” said the Iowa yokel confusedly. “What’s up with that?”