Alex Koppelman of Salon offers a handy eight-point guide to rebutting the birthers on the question of Obama's birth certificate and citizenship status. Unfortunately, although some of his points are quite solid, some fail to convince me and I suspect that with one or two Mr. Koppelman did not even convince himself.
He loses me at 1:
Myth 1: Obama wasn't born in the U.S.
This is the big one. It may also be the most easily refuted. First of all, during the presidential campaign, Obama released a certification of live birth, which is the official document you get if you ask Hawaii for a copy of your birth certificate. There are allegations that what Obama released is a forgery, but state officials have repeatedly affirmed its authenticity and said they've checked it against the original record and that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii.
And he goes on to mention the birth announcements, the joke about establishing Obama's bona fides for a Presidential run decades later, and recycles the high-probability-but-unverified report (which came from a guy who wasn't there in 1961 telling us how it was normally done years later) that those announcements are run based on a press release from the State of Hawaii.
None of which does a thing for me. I'll accept that the birth announcements argue against the notion that Obama operatives forged his documentation in 2005 in order to smooth the way for a Presidential run. However, I am stuck with my belief in the *possibility* that Obama's mother and maternal grandparents may have wanted fraudulently to document Baby Barack as a US citizen in fear of the day when the white Ms. Dunham would be tussling for custody of a black Kenyan (or Commonwealth) baby in a Kenyan (or Commonwealth) court against the black father. The motive seems plausible. The necessity? Well, if Baby Barack was born in Kenya (or while Ms. Dunham was visiting friends in Vancouver), his status as a citizen of the British Commonwealth would be more clear than his US status, given her age at the time.
Obviously, that doesn't mean Obama was in fact born elsewhere, but actions that have a motive are generally more likely than actions that do not.
If the State of Hawaii will issue a birth certificate on the basis of an affidavit (I believe they will) and if the mother and both grandparents swore Obama was born in Hawaii, well, that might be all the supporting documentation behind the state records. That would not show up on the short form summary that has been released but the absence of a hospital and attending physician would be a notable omission from the long form documentation available to the state, and to Obama, but not to the rest of us.
So the short form which has "proven" his birth in Hawaii to the true believers has only convinced me that paperwork exists claiming Obama was born in Hawaii. Accurate or not, that paperwork would have then triggered a press release leading to a birth announcement. If that paperwork is simply parental affidavits I will be less impressed than if it is hospital records. So far neither Alex Koppelman nor I know the underlying facts here.
[MORE: And when did Hawaiian officials "repeatedly affirm" its authenticity? I welcome a cite; what I've got is Politifact chatting with Janice Okubo, spokeperson for the Dept. of Health, who flip-flopped:
When the birth certificate arrived from the Obama campaign it confirmed his name as the other documents already showed it. Still, we took an extra step: We e-mailed it to the Hawaii Department of Health, which maintains such records, to ask if it was real.
"It's a valid Hawaii state birth certificate," spokesman Janice Okubo told us.
But a bit later...
And about the copy we e-mailed her for verification? "When we looked at that image you guys sent us, our registrar, he thought he could see pieces of the embossed image through it."
Still, she acknowledges: "I don't know that it's possible for us to even say beyond a doubt what the image on the site represents."
That convinced Mr. Koppelman?
As to Obama being born in Hawaii, it was only last week (July 27, 2009) that a state official said so; prior to that, they stood by their Oct 2008 statement that Obama had a birth record of some sort or other in Hawaii.]
Myth 2: Obama can't be president because his father was a British citizen
That claim is so weak I suspect a strawman.
Myth 3: A Kenyan birth certificate for Obama, showing he was born in Mombasa, has been discovered
Myth 4: Obama's grandmother said he was born in Kenya
I wouldn't hang my hat on a short interview (by telephone?) with a confused older woman.
Myth 5: Hawaii allows parents to get birth certificates for their foreign-born children
This one is actually true -- just not in the way the Birthers think. Here's their position, as outlined by World Net Daily, a conservative news site that's become the unofficial Birther Web headquarters: "The 'Certification of Live Birth' posted online and widely touted as 'Obama's birth certificate' does not in any way prove he was born in Hawaii, since the same 'short-form' document is easily obtainable for children not born in Hawaii."
Children not born in Hawaii can get a birth document from the state. But it won't say they were born in Hawaii, as Obama's does.
From which I would take away that there is latitude and flexibility in the mechanisms by which Hawaii can be induced to issue a birth certificate. Which is fair enough - not every baby is born in a hospital with nurses, doctors, and paperwork everywhere. So where in Hawaii does the State of Hawaii think Obama was born? We have not been told any official details beyond an island and county.
Myth 6: Obama traveled to Pakistan using an Indonesian passport
When the Birthers tire of arguing that Obama wasn't born in the U.S., they take another tack. At some point during the time he spent in Indonesia growing up, they say, Obama must have taken Indonesian citizenship or renounced his American citizenship or both. As proof, they cite the trip he took to Pakistan in 1981 with a friend from college, and say the U.S. government had issued a ban on travel by its citizens to the country.
Well. I wouldn't mind seeing Obama's passport file, which ought to clear this up. As I understand it, there is no proof that Obama used an American passport, an Indonesian passport, or even went to Pakistan. Obama says he did, and I don't know why he would lie, but I don't know why I am expected to endure these faith-based initiatives, either.
Now we get to the weakest part of the Salon presentation, cleverly held until the end:
Myth 7: Obama hasn't released his birth certificate
Here, we'll admit, Uncle Floyd has a point -- at least a limited one. Strictly speaking, what Obama's campaign released wasn't called a birth certificate; it's a certification of live birth. But there's no functional difference between the two: Ask Hawaii for your birth certificate, and you'll get the certification of live birth back..
The functional difference is the lack of information in the summary short form. The long form would normally include a hospital and an attending physician, as Mr. Koppelman fails to note here.
Myth 8: If Obama would just release his birth certificate, he could end all this
So why hasn't the state of Hawaii released the original paper document? By law, the state can't release Obama's birth records without his OK. State law says that the document can only be released to or "inspect[ed]" by someone with a "direct and tangible" interest. (Though, again, except for "permit[ting] inspection," the law refers to the release of copies and certified copies, not the original record.)
But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Obama could get the original paper document out of its undisclosed Hawaiian location and show it to reporters. Shouldn't he? Maybe not. He's already released a completely legal form of proof of his birthplace; to cave in to the Birthers' demands now would legitimize them. It would also likely lead to a wave of stories asking why the change in stance had happened, and what had taken so long.
Hmm, so transparnecy from the most transparent Administration in history would be a political problem?
Obama actually answered that very question, indirectly, as reported in today's Politico - releasing his full birth documentation could help elevate the tone in Washington and take some heat off of moderate Republicans trying to work with the President on health care while getting screamed at by the crazy birthers. Or so Mr. Koppelman or any supporter of the President could sensibly argue.
Instead, we are assured that since you can't please everyone there is no point in trying to please anyone:
The truth is that it was the original release of the certification of live birth that kicked off the Birther movement to begin with. And some of its leaders wouldn't cease their quest even if they were given the original birth certificate -- along with a video showing Obama being born, lei already around his neck.
Whatever. If (to my surprise) the long form indicates a reliance on parental affidavits, well, ouch - parents have been known to tell the truth on ocassion, and neither the mother nor grandparents are alive to take questions. Points 7 and 8 are weak and weaker.
THREE CARD MONTE, OR ALWAYS THE RED NEVER THE BLACK:
What I am sure has been blindingly obvious to everyone has suddenly come clear to me.
The simplistic notion (which is to say, my notion) has been to think that people who are hiding something have something to hide. From which it simplistically follows that Obama is sitting on his long form certificate because something about it contains embarrassing information.
However! Obama is hiding much more than his birth certificate - as Mr. Koppelman reminds us, people would still like to see his college transcripts, his senior thesis, his financial aid application to Occidental, billing records from his days in a law firm, and much more.
So, hide in plain sight - someone with something to hide might strategically choose to hide lots of things, most of which are innocuous. Maybe a two year scuffle for the birth certifcate ends with Obama releasing it and the critics saying "Huh?" But those two years will not have been spent scuffling over the real jackpot, which might be any of the other concealed records. And the critics may have been discreditied by their failure to find anything.
Historians will sort this out, presumably, but we won't hold our breath - we still have our favorite Frequently Unasked Questions from the Kerry campaign in 2004.