When Mitt Romney surrogate and former governor of New Hampshire John Sununu said yesterday during a conference call that he “wish[ed] this president would learn how to be an American,” it got some in the news media to play dumb and act like Sununu was suggesting Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.

Sununu was commenting on a remark Obama made Friday that “if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.” Sununu said:

“The men and women all over America who have worked hard to build these businesses, their businesses, from the ground up is how our economy became the envy of the world. It is the American way. And I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”

Reuters picked up the quote and in a news story, followed it with: “Obama has repeatedly sought to end false speculation by many conservatives that he was not born in the United States and thus is not legally able to serve as president.”

ThinkProgress said Sununu was “smearing President Obama as a foreigner, in a not-so-subtle effort to revive the right-wing conspiracy theories surrounding his birthplace.”

At Politico: “[I]n spite of the myriad attacks the Romney campaign has used against Obama this year, questioning his American-ness isn’t something we’ve seen before on a campaign call.”

Clearly, looking at Sununu’s full comment (which, for the sake of moving on with his life, he has since apologized for), you can see that he was saying “learn how to be American” in the same way you might say “get real,” “man-up,” or “don’t be a p****.”

It would be like a baseball coach telling an under-performing player in the middle of a game to “get in the game.” The player is obviously in the game (look he’s on the field!) but maybe not quite in the game. Obama is obviously American (we’ve seen the birth certificate, Sheriff Joe!) but maybe he’s not quite being an American.

Sununu said as much (in a more nuanced way) on CNN. “I was making the point that in America,” he said, “entrepreneurs deserve credit and there is an American formula for creating jobs. And I used that phrase three or four times in that call.”

How did anyone miss that the first time?

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