Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Birther *GAG* Issue

I hate talking about this. It has been one of the biggest wastes of time the electorate has had to suffer through in the last three years, distracting us from genuinely vital issues like the economy, foreign policy, government reform, etc., etc., etc. However, those trying to kill the birther movement are blinded by their own ideological commitments and committing wholesale slander and libel, and, worse, dumping history in the sewer to try to achieve their goals.

Let's start with Wikipedia's article on the Natural Born Citizen clause of the Constitution, which, appropriately, begins with a quotation from section one article two of the US Constitution:
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
An interesting discussion of various interpretations of that requirement as well as a history of US citizenship in law and a history of challenges to the citizenship of candidates follows. It includes such fascinating tidbits as the debate over whether simply birth in the US confers citizenship (jus soli), or birth in the US to American parents, or just birth to American parents (jus sanguinis).

As late as 2008, a law professor could assert that both jus soli and jus sanguinis were requirements, indicating that Obama, whose father was a British subject and not an American citizen, would not be considered a natural born citizen. He later changed his mind:
In a 2008 article published by the Michigan Law Review Lawrence Solum, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, stated that "[t]here is general agreement on the core of [the] meaning [of the Presidential Eligibility Clause]. Anyone born on American soil whose parents are citizens of the United States is a 'natural born citizen'". In April 2010 Solum republished the same article as an online draft, in which he changed his opinion on the meaning of natural born citizen to include persons born in the United States of one American citizen parent. In a footnote he explained that "[b]ased on my reading of the historical sources, there is no credible case that a person born on American soil with one American parent was clearly not a 'natural born citizen.'" He further extended natural born citizenship to all cases of jus soli as the "conventional view".
Given that the Fourteenth Amendment states that, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside", I think the jus soli plus jus sanguinis argument is clearly wrong. Jus soli is enough, and Obama's British father has no bearing on the question. Indeed, had both of his parents been British subjects, that would still be irrelevant. All the evidence indicates that he was born in Hawaii, which last I heard was an American state, and that alone is enough to make him a natural born citizen of these United States. (NB: One can quibble with the fact that the Fourteenth doesn't use the words 'natural born citizens.' I think it is a silly quibble, but apparently some scholars do not.)

Obama was not the first presidential candidate whose status as a natural born citizen was questioned. Wikipedia's list includes:

Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886), 21st president of the United States, was rumored to have been born in Canada.

Christopher Schürmann (born 1848 in New York) entered the Labor primaries during the 1896 presidential election. His eligibility was questioned in a New York Tribune article, because he was born to alien parents of German nationality.

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 and stated: "Now if, by any possible construction, a person at the instant of birth, and for any period of time thereafter, owes, or may owe, allegiance to any sovereign but the United States, he is not a 'natural-born' citizen of the United States."

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.

George Romney (1907–1995), who ran for the Republican party nomination in 1968, was born in Mexico to U.S. parents.

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 ... A lawsuit filed by Fred Hollander in 2008 alleged that McCain was actually born in a civilian hospital in Colon City, Panama.

Barack Obama (born 1961), 44th president of the United States, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to a U.S. citizen mother and a British subject father from what was then the Kenya Colony of the United Kingdom (which became the independent country of Kenya in 1963).
Why is all this worth bringing up here? Because of articles like "Birtherist response highlights racial undertones of ‘debate’", by Rachel Rose Hartman, which would seem to demonstrate an incredible ideological blindness by otherwise intelligent, well-educated people.

During the 2008 campaign, questions about John McCain's birth in the Panama Canal Zone on a U.S. military base prompted some to ask whether McCain was eligible to be president, since the Constitution stipulates that anyone not born in the United States is not eligible to be president.

... When a bipartisan pair of lawyers announced the following month that McCain was indeed eligible, the issue virtually died--apart from a Senate resolution that pretty much laid the question to rest by attesting to the facts surrounding McCain's birth and citizenship.

But the winner of the 2008 election, Barack Obama, has faced a relentless campaign questioning his U.S. citizenship--and thereby the legitimacy of his presidency--that has disregarded the facts.


So what's fueling the dogged questioning of Obama's origins? Many critics of the birther movement say its core tenets--and its stubborn resistance to evidence disproving those beliefs--can be traced to racial hostilities. The fundamental birtherist conviction, these critics say, is that an African-American can't have legitimately won the presidency--and that his elevation to power therefore has to be the result of an elaborate subterfuge.

"There is a real deep-seated and vicious racism at work here in terms of trying to de-legitimate the president," Peniel Joseph, a professor of history at Tufts University, told The Ticket.

"This is more than just a conspiracy," Joseph added. "I think this is fundamentally connected to a conception of white supremacist democracy in this country."

The article goes on to quote Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., columnist Michael Tomasky, and Jesse Jackson as sharing this view. Hartman continues:

Birthers emphatically deny such criticism. But it's difficult to apprehend the ongoing resistance to proof of Obama's citizenship without crediting racial fear as a significant factor. At first, after all, many adherents of birtherism argued that the administration fueled speculation by failing to release the long-form version of Obama's birth certificate, but now that this version has been released to the public, the call continues to go out for other kinds of information about Obama's past to be released--a level of scrutiny that neither McCain nor Obama's 43 predecessors in the Oval Office were expected to face.


Trump and others have accused Obama of not authoring his memoir, while many Obama detractors continue to argue he is secretly Muslim. Both Jackson and Joseph noted that never before has a sitting president's nationality been questioned.

Meanwhile, an eye-opening recent study from the University of Delaware appears to confirm that race-minded detractors of Obama view him as "less American"--as Dan Vergano writes for USA Today.

The study, which surveyed blacks and whites on their opinions of Obama compared to Vice President Joe Biden, found that whites classified as "higher prejudice-predicted Whites" viewed Obama as "less American"--a view that, in turn, resulted in lower evaluations of the president's performance.
There are several issues missing from this article that indicate a powerful ideological blindness. In completely ignoring factors other than race, it fails to mention, for example, the fact that Obama's father was a British subject, that photos of a young Obama in Indonesian garb have made the rounds, or that Obama attended Jeremiah Wright's ("God DAMN America!") church for decades (a church which lauded Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan), or repeated charges that Obama is a socialist, all things that would at least bring up other possible reasons some Americans would have this view of Obama. There is also no analysis of birther rhetoric itself, other than to note that birthers deny the racism charge. In addition, the article ignores the lengthy history of challenging the natural born citizenship of a number of white candidates prior to the 2008 election, including two on issues of parentage.

More egregious is the complete failure to mention the sustained, hate-filled campaign by Democrats to delegitimize Bush's presidency that lasted all throughout Bush's time in office, despite actual recounts after the USSC ruling that showed Bush would have won anyway. The campaign to delegitimize Obama's presidency can be seen as a response to the dishonesty and ugliness of the Democratic war on Bush's legitimacy. Even if you disagree with my characterization of that effort, the idea that an attack by a primarily Republican demographic on the legitimacy of a sitting Democratic president is in no way related to the primarily Democratic attack on the legitimacy of the preceding Republican president seems absurd.

So here's the point: Birthers believe what they believe due to their ideological blindness. Others believe the birthers must be motivated by racism because of their own ideological blindness. These are two more examples of the bipartisan nature of the lack of intellectual curiosity that infests our nation, of the confirmation bias endemic to humanity, and of plain old stuck on stupid. Both groups are damaging this nation.

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