Just because a story shouldn’t matter doesn’t mean that it won’t. A case in point is the controversy about Barack Obama’s birthplace. The standard liberal response to this issue has been to dismiss those questioning the president’s place of birth as wing nuts. The problem is that, as Hawaii’s new governor – and a friend of the Obama family – noted recently, the issue is certain to come up in the 2012 election and thus needs to be dealt with.
And Governor Neil Abercrombie takes it somewhat personally as “I knew his mum and dad. I was here when he was born.”
Both the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star Bulletin published announcements of the birth of a son to Mr and Mrs Barack Obama on August 4, 1961.
So if you want to insist that Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii then you not only have to believe that Governor Abercrombie is a liar but that the notices in the newspapers of the time were false. And why? Could it be that Obama’s parents were launching his presidential campaign that early?
Unfortunately, however, one hard fact makes this story more complicated, namely that the state of Hawaii, citing its laws, will not release the president’s full birth record and Obama has failed to asked it to do so.
While the first problem can be written off to legalistic obstinacy, the second is, to put it gently, curious. Why does a Harvard lawyer let such a claim continue to fester in public without taking the simple steps necessary to quash it?
The state has produced what might be called a certificate of the certificate, giving the basics of what the original document purportedly says. CNN has suggested that the original certificate no longer exists since all such records were discarded in 2001 but the state denies it. Hawaii is, in effect, denying the absence of something it can’t or won’t produce.
No one has come up with a good answer for all this, but several explanations spring to mind: perhaps the original birth certificate has disappeared. Perhaps there is some other information on the form that might embarrass Obama. Or that perhaps that natural born problem, Rahm Emmanuel, told Obama to screw it and let the complainers go to hell.
Certainly the way Obama handled the matter during the campaign was strange. FactCheck.org alone was invited to view a hard copy of the original document and later reported:
“FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false. We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as “supporting documents” to this article. Our conclusion: Obama was born in the U.S.A. just as he has always said.”
But why not just tell Hawaii to let a pool of reporters and lawyers view the actual document?
The problem remains odd and is getting odder.
Further, Governor Abercrombie’s effort to resolve it has come to naught. According to Abercrombie, he was told by the state attorney general that he can’t see the original certificate without the consent of the individual involved.
But this is not new information. This has been the state’s legal position all along and Abercrombie presumably knew it from the start. Yet a day earlier, the British Daily Mail had reported:
“Abercrombie said on Tuesday that an investigation had unearthed papers proving Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961. He told Honolulu’s Star-Advertiser: ‘It actually exists in the archives, written down,’ he said.
“But it became apparent that what had been discovered was an unspecified listing or notation of Obama’s birth that someone had made in the state archives and not a birth certificate.
“And in the same interview Abercrombie suggested that a long-form, hospital-generated birth certificate for Barack Obama may not exist within the vital records maintained by the Hawaii Department of Health. . .
“He acknowledged the birth certificate issue would have ‘political implications’ for the next presidential election ‘that we simply cannot have.’”
Neither Abercrombie through his public inquiry nor Obama through his silence seems to have helped matters. Why they are playing this game remains a question.
The irony is that, in the end, it really doesn’t matter.
First of all, several judges have already rejected cases involving the matter – undoubtedly in part on the unspoken grounds that determining that Obama was not entitled to be president would tear the country apart as never before, especially when the argument is based on something as shaky as his whereabouts during a stage of life when he couldn’t even pee in a toilet, let along speak the mother tongue.
Second, there is quite an interesting history of public figures being challenged and an equally interesting history of nothing much happening as a result. A few cases citied in Wikipedia:
– Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886), 21st president of the United States, was rumored to have been born in Canada. This was never demonstrated by his Democratic opponents, although Arthur Hinman, an attorney who had investigated Arthur’s family history, raised the objection during his vice-presidential campaign and after the end of his Presidency. . .
– The eligibility of Charles Evans Hughes (1862–1948) was questioned in an article written by Breckinridge Long, and published in the Chicago Legal News during the U.S. presidential election of 1916, in which Hughes was narrowly defeated by Woodrow Wilson. Long claimed that Hughes was ineligible because his father had not yet naturalized at the time of his birth and was still a British citizen. Observing that Hughes, although born in the United States, was also a British subject and therefore “enjoy[ed] a dual nationality and owe[d] a double allegiance”, Long argued that a native born citizen was not natural born without a unity of U.S. citizenship and allegiance.
* George Romney (1907–1995), who ran for the Republican party nomination in 1968, was born in Mexico to U.S. parents. Romney’s grandfather had emigrated to Mexico in 1886 with his three wives and children after Utah outlawed polygamy. Romney’s monogamous parents retained their U.S. citizenship and returned to the United States with him in 1912. Romney never received Mexican citizenship. George Romney therefore had no allegiance to a foreign country.
* Barry Goldwater (1909–1998) was born in Phoenix, in what was then the incorporated Arizona Territory of the United States. During his presidential campaign in 1964, there was a minor controversy over Goldwater’s having been born in Arizona when it was not yet a state.
* Lowell Weicker (born 1931), the former Connecticut Senator, Representative, and Governor, entered the race for the Republican party nomination of 1980 but dropped out before voting in the primaries began. He was born in Paris, France to parents who were U.S. citizens. His father was an executive for E. R. Squibb & Sons and his mother was the Indian-born daughter of a British general.
* Róger Calero (born 1969) was born in Nicaragua and ran as the Socialist Worker’s Party presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008. In 2008, Calero appeared on the ballot in Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.
* John McCain (born 1936), who ran for the Republican party nomination in 2000 and was the Republican nominee in 2008, was born at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone. McCain never released his birth certificate to the press or independent fact checking organizations, but did show it to Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs: “A senior official of the McCain campaign showed a reporter Dobbs a copy of the senator’s birth certificate issued by Canal Zone health authorities, recording his birth in the Coco Solo “family hospital.”
There are other reasons not to get too worked up about all this, a key one being that even if Obama’s birth was contrary to the Constitution, it would rank of one of the mildest violations of said document over the past few decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents (including Obama). Far better to tend to things like the First, Fourth and Tenth Amendments that are in serious trouble.
Driving this cause appears to be much of the same myopic miasma that allows the right to fixate on the sanctity of life still in the womb and then to become ideologically indifferent to it forever thereafter. Given their obsession, we should be grateful that they are not demanding videographic proof that Obama was conceived in Hawaii.
Finally, perhaps the best reason not to worry about this issue is that the definition of a “natural born citizen” has been a topic of a heated debate throughout our history. It wasn’t well defined at the time of the Constitution was drafted and it hasn’t been since.
The lawyers in the house can enjoy it all by reading this brief history
Or they might want to study Charles Gordon’s paper in the Fall 1968 Maryland Law Review entitled “Who Can Be President Of The United States: The Unresolved Enigma.”
Little did he know how prescient he was.
A few passages give the feel:
From today’s vantage point in history, 180 years after the Constitution was adopted, several aspects of this formulation are puzzling. In the first place, the Framers here and at other points in the Constitution referred to citizens of the United States, but nowhere specified who were to be regarded as citizens.’
In any event, as originally adopted, the Constitution’s only oblique and inconclusive reference to the acquisition of citizenship was its grant of authority to Congress “to establish an uniform rule of naturalization.” This omission to define citizenship persevered until 1868, when the fourteenth amendment was adopted. . .
A second puzzling aspect of the constitutional prescription is its naked, again undefined, reference to the “natural-born.” The presidential qualification clause is the sole instance of this term’s appearance in the Constitution.’ The only explanation for the use of this term is the apparent belief of the Framers that its connotation was clear. With the passage of the years this has proved a mistaken assumption. . .
A third puzzling element of the constitutional declaration is its specification that the presidential aspirant must have “been fourteen years a resident of the United States.” If the Framers were speaking only of the native-born, this limitation would hardly have been necessary. It can doubtless be urged that this residence qualification was intended to relate only to the portion of the qualification clause dealing with citizens of the United States at the time the Constitution was adopted. But while the language of the qualification clause obviously includes this group, it is not in context limited to them. Indeed, it seems consistent with a supposition that the “natural-born” qualification was intended to include those who had acquired United States citizenship at birth abroad. . .
My favorite legal analysis cited is this: “In Minor v. Happersett, Chief Justice Waite observed that. . . ‘The Constitution of the United States did not in terms prescribe who should be citizens of the United States or of the several States, yet there were necessarily such citizens without such provision. There cannot be a nation without a people.”
The search for precedents began early and ran deep. A Mr. Burke stood up in the First Congress and observed that “The case of children of American parents born abroad ought to be provided for, as was done in the case of English parents, in the 12th year of William III.”
And Gordon writes that “In 1343, the situation of the foreign-born children of British subjects was discussed in Parliament. There was general agreement that the status of such children should be clarified in order to eliminate any doubts as to their rights of inheritance as Englishmen. The enactment of legislation was delayed by the ravages of the plague in England. However, in 1350, Parliament did enact a law for the express purpose of resolving existing doubts, which declared that the children born beyond the sea to British subjects ‘shall have and enjoy the same benefits and advantages’ as their parents in regard to the right of inheritance. The first reference to such children as natural-born subjects apparently was in a 1677 law, which dealt with the children of persons who had fled to foreign countries during the Cromwell era, and declared such persons to be natural-born subjects.”
Gordon also cited Justice Goldberg’s wise admonition that an “isolated phrase in the United States Constitution [cannot be] rigidly interpreted without regard to other relevant provisions and to time and circumstance.”
So basically it’s a huge natural born mess and one that would take more than Obama’s potential six remaining years to resolve if it ever made it to court. I personally suggest a rule of thumb that children are natural citizens as long as at least one of their parents is one and provided that the kids arrive on American soil at least by the time they can, of their own volition, poop in the pot – the first clear sign that they are willing to submit to the system.
The matter, however could be far more easily resolved if someone would just come up with that damn birth certificate. Hawaii, for example, could change its law to permit it, or Obama could simply request that it be released. As it is, he has hurt himself and provided a feast for fools.
SAM SMITH edits the Progressive Review.