Monday, August 03, 2009

Birthing common sense

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I'm hesitant to wade into the argument over whether Barack Obama really is a natural born American citizen and thus constitutionally qualified to hold office (those who are skeptical of Obama's qualifications are often referred to as 'birthers'). I'm hesitant because, frankly, the apocalyptic rhetoric and furious rage of many birthers is a little intimidating, especially considering the affinity for guns most of them brag about.

(Bear in mind that I did not vote for Obama and have many issues with him and his administration, though they all revolve his policies rather than the location where he exited his mother's uterus half a century ago)

Racism and xenophobia is not inherent in the question of whether Obama is legally qualified to be president. In theory, the question is fundamentally about the rule of law, as my friend Matt explained in this piece. I'm not convinced by it but I know he's not a racist or xenophobe.

But in practice, there's no doubt that racism and xenophobia is a far too common feature among birthers, which is why the anti-immigration TV pundits Glenn Beck of Fox News [sic] and Lou Dobbs of supposedly respectable CNN (though that was the network to give Beck his first national platform) have taken up the cause. This is unfortunate for two reasons. The first is that there's far too much bigotry, hatred and intolerance of difference in this country as it is. Second, if this is an important question, it's important to the extent that it affects/reflects the rule of law and the hatemongering obscures what should be a serious discussion.

If this controversy were solely about the rule of law (as it should be), then why weren't these people demanding that previous presidents publicize their birth certificates too? How do we know that Dubya didn't really pop out when Babs and George were on vacation in the Carribbean or Europe? After all, Bush Sr. was quite the world traveler.

The reason I'm skeptical of the birthers' contention is simple: it doesn't pass the smell test. The specifics have been widely addressed (most recently in this column by Leonard Pitts), though nothing will really satisfy most birthers. Name any scenario that Obama could (again) prove his natural born citizen status and they would find a reason to reject it or find conspiracy.

But here's why I'm most skeptical. Political campaigns are take-no-prisoners affairs, presidential campaigns triply so. I've often heard libertarians complain about how evil and cynical the Clintons are. Many also think that the Republican administration caused 9/11 for political gain and as an excuse for militarism and to seize our freedoms. Both raised and spent gargantuan sums of money to try to get elected. If the Clintons and the GOP were anywhere near as ruthless as libertarians, then both would've made sure they were pounding this story incessantly until the media picked up on, as it would've caused Obama's candidacy to implode.

The Clintons will do anything for power, including whore themselves out to corporate lobbys, pander to theocrats and bomb aspirin factories. According to many libertarians, Republicans were so cynical as to commit or enable one of the worst crimes against humanity of the 21st century to win an election (among other things). But none of these most ruthless people was willing to take up the birthers' cause, even for the selfish reason of gaining themselves power. They knew this story didn't contain one iota of truth. And surprisingly, this lack of truth actually stopped them for once.

I'm still waiting for someone offers me a compelling explanation of what's missing in this common sense observation.

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Clarification: I think there should be some sort of legal or constitutional change whereby all candidates for the presidency should be required to privately present their birth certificates and any other requirements to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for validation. There could also be a representative for each candidate present. I say privately because in this era of identity theft, I'm not sure the specific details contained on such documents need be required to be made public. Our decentralized electoral system makes such a plan difficult to envision, but it could be required of the actual winner of the election more easily before his swearing-in. I realize even this won't satisfy most birthers, as Obama has already released his birth certificate publicly on more than one occasion. But it's the right thing to do for the purposes of the rule of law.

Update: When you're dealing with a theory against a liberal that even Ann Coulter thinks is too extreme...

Further update: Apparently the birthers have produced a fake document purporting to be Obama's Kenyan birth certificate. It claims Obama was born on August 9, 1961 in Mombassa, Republic of Kenya. Two obvious facts make this a forgery. First, Mombassa was a part of the British colony of Zanzibar until 1963 when it was ceded to Kenya. Second, Kenya was a British colony in 1961; it did not become an independent country until 1963 and did not become a republic until 1969.

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