Since the 2008 primary election campaign, Barack Obama has been the subject of false and baseless suspicion surrounding his birth. For over three years, birthers have questioned Obama’s claim that he was born in the United States, specifically in the State of Hawaii, in 1961. Many of these conspiracy theorists believed it was more likely that he was born in Kenya, and therefore was not a natural born U.S. citizen, and ineligible to serve as president – this in spite of the preponderance of conclusive evidence that Obama was telling the truth, and the total lack of any proof for their own claims.
Hoping to silence the birthers once and for all, Obama publicly released his birth certificate in June of 2008. This unprecedented action accomplished nothing, as most birthers, prodded forward from the far-right by the likes of Joseph Farah and Jerome Corsi, now demanded to see Obama’s long-form birth certificate. The certificate released in 2008 was the computer-generated short-form – an official state document accepted as proof of birth and citizenship by any court in the country, but insufficient for the birthers.
So this morning, after writing personally to the director of the Hawaii Department of Health, Barack Obama publicly released copies of his long-form birth certificate. You can view a PDF of the document here, and copies of the president’s correspondence with the Hawaii Department of Health here.
Despite the fact that the long-form birth certificate confirms every claim Barack Obama has ever made about the circumstances of his birth – he was born August 4, 1961, at Kapi’olani Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii – many birthers seem determined to cling to their desperate and utterly discredited conviction that Barack Obama is just not American enough to be President of the United States.
The headline this morning on Joseph Farah’s WorldNetDaily (the wingnut paper of record) reads “White House releases Obama ‘birth certificate'”. Note the scare quotes. Many of the over 10,000 comments on the Fox News article reporting the release of the birth certificate are from birthers who seem willing to pretend as though the document, which they have indignantly demanded to see for three years, doesn’t exist.
“It’s just a copy, it could have been forged” is a popular response. Or how about this one: “Well, then why did he wait so long to release it?” Or this one, definitely my favorite: “That’s a Certificate of Live Birth, not a Birth Certificate!”
Let’s work backwards and take these one at a time, as they seem to be the three most common birther protests. First:
“It’s a Certificate of Live Birth, not a Birth Certificate!”
The definition of an acceptable birth certificate is incredibly narrow to a birther – so narrow, in fact, that no doubt many of their own birth certificates wouldn’t meet the standard they set for Barack Obama. Both documents release by Obama, the long-form and short, contain all the information that a birth certificate is supposed to have: child’s name, parents’ names and address, time and date and place of birth.
Yet most birthers seem to be rejecting it on sight because it lacks one or all of the following: a stamped notary seal, fingerprints of one or both parents, footprints of the baby, the exact phrase “Birth Certificate” at the top. Remember the absurd scene from Batman Returns where the Penguin is plowing through Gotham City’s birth records at city hall, turning over one handwritten, footprinted parchment birth certificate after another? That scene appears to be the basis for the birther conception of a birth record. Nothing else, no matter how many government officials endorse it, no matter how many courts admit it as evidence, will do.
The fact is, there is not a single, unified format for birth certificates in the United States. They vary from location to location. My own birth certificate from 1980 actually looks a lot like the birther cliché – my little feetprints and everything. But that doesn’t mean any birth certificate that looks different, especially if it originated in a different state, is automatically invalid. Hawaiian birth certificates don’t look the way birthers think they should look. Unfortunately for the birthers, it’s not up to them, and their opinions are irrelevant.
So, by the way, is the idiotic detail of whether the document is titled “Birth Certificate” or “Certificate of Live Birth”. Would someone care to explain the relevant difference?
“Why did he wait so long to release it?”
I’ve actually had to deal with this question in person recently. Over the Easter weekend, I had a really fun political discussion with one of my wife’s cousins, an outspoken and enthusiastic conservative. He stopped short of affirming himself a birther, but like most conservatives I’ve talked with about this he was unwilling to wholly reject the claim that Obama was born outside the U.S. One thing he kept coming back to was the notion that Obama should have just released the long-form birth certificate right away and nipped any suspicions in the bud. A bit later in our conversation, an uncle chimed in to ask, “Why hasn’t he released it, unless he has something to hide?”
Trying to convince the uncle that his suspicion, based on a vague presumption of guilt, was not evidence of anything was a losing battle. Despite it being a cherished and vital part of our legal tradition, many Americans are simply unwilling to grant the accused the benefit of the doubt. Actual evidence of guilt isn’t necessary – any behavior by the accused that doesn’t match their preconception of what an innocent person would do is proof of guilt.
But that’s an attitude problem. What about a more practical answer – why didn’t Obama just release the long-form birth certificate, for all the good it would do, a long time ago?
Legally, it wasn’t that simple. Besides what they look like, another widely held misconception about birth certificates is who they belong to. We refer to it as “Obama’s birth certificate” because it documents his birth, but the document doesn’t belong to Barack Obama. It belongs to the State of Hawaii, just as yours belongs to whatever state you were born in. Birth certificates don’t belong to us, and they don’t exist for our benefit. They’re public records. That’s why in most cases you can request to see your original birth certificate, but you can only take home a copy. The original stays on file. It’s not your property; it’s public property.
And in the State of Hawaii, when you request a copy of your birth certificate, you are issued the short-form document. It’s produced from health department records, it’s verified and signed by a state official – it is your birth certificate! And it’s the only birth certificate the State of Hawaii is legally required to show you, even if you’re the President of the United States. Birthers assume that all Obama had to do was just walk down to the courthouse in Honolulu and ask for his birth certificate. In reality it took personal letters from both the president and his attorney to the Hawaii Director of Health, who then had to make an exception to department policy and personally approve the document’s release, in order for Obama to get a copy of his long-form birth certificate.
That’s right – the President of the United States had to ask the head of the Hawaiian Health Department to bend the rules in order for him to show a copy of his original birth certificate to a bunch of conspiracy theorists who immediately turned their noses up at it anyway.
And speaking of which:
“It’s just a copy! It could be a forgery!”
We’re deep into Hail Mary, last-refuge-of-a-scoundrel territory here. Here are a few questions for those who claim the long-form birth certificate – which, again, the birthers have been demanding to see for years – is a forgery:
Who is the forger? A mole within the Hawaiian Health Department – the same agent who submitted false birth announcements to Honolulu newspapers, perhaps? Or is the government of Obama’s supposed state of birth knowingly complicit in this nefarious fraud?
When was this forgery produced? Does it date all the way back to 1961, when the “Elect Barack Obama President in 2008” plot began? Or is it more recent – say, circa 2007?
Why was this hoax perpetrated to begin with? What agenda required a presidential candidate with a forged citizenship in order to succeed? Whose interests are being served – the State of Hawaii? The Democratic Party? One of the other groups or individuals who have stepped forward to publicly and unequivocally affirm the truth of Barack Obama’s claim to have been born in Hawaii?
And most importantly, assuming you think you have answers to any of those questions, how do you know? Barack Obama has provided solid, convincing evidence for his claims – multiple birth certificates, birth announcements, testimony of family and friends. Where is your evidence?