Monday, July 20, 2009

Obama's citizenship

Since I just saw a news clip about President Obama's citizenship, I suppose the issue is still alive, and I'd like to add my two cents. I've read any number of conservative columnists saying that this is a dead end and that it is fodder for nut cases. I agree on both counts, but neither means that it isn't a real issue. It's probably a dead end because I can hardly imagine a circumstance in which Obama would be turned out of office, and it is fodder for nut cases because this is the sort of thing they thrive on. But I'm still not convinced that there isn't a problem here.

I'm an historian, and I'm used to making historical judgements on the basis of less evidence than I have seen presented in favour of Obama's birth in Hawaii. If he had lived 200 years ago, I would be pretty well convinced that what he asserted is true. But this case is quite different, because Obama is alive and well, and could easily release his birth certificate and end all speculation. Releasing an image onto the internet is clearly not the same thing. Could he get a passport with that image? No. So why should he be allowed to become president on the basis of it?

The strange thing is that Obama is taking a certain amount of heat in public opinion by stonewalling on his birth certificate, and he is spending money defending himself in court cases in order to avoid presenting it. Why would he do that? I have read one conservative commentator suggest that he may be using it as a distractor to keep a portion of his opponents off of the real issues. If the heat ever gets too serious, he could just present the birth certificate and prove that he was right all along, making his opponents look like idiots. That strikes me as an unusually subtle political tactic, but it could be true. Or perhaps there is something else embarrassing on the birth certificate that he does not want released. I have no idea what else could be on there, but maybe there is something -- maybe it lists religion, for example.

Whether a ploy, to cover up some other information, or because there really is a problem with the birth certificate, none of it really matters. I think every president should be required to present their birth certificate prior to taking the oath of office. Probably Obama really is an American, but there could be some future case that is less certain. Shouldn't this be standard operating procedure?

I refrain from making too big an issue out of it because I believe it is futile -- unless a court makes Obama show his birth certificate, he is not going to; and if he doesn't have to show it, the vast majority of people are going to believe him. That said, I can't see why he should not have to present the birth certificate; and, although the evidence indeed seems to point to his being born in Hawaii, I will remain uncertain until I see better proof.

On the subject of his religion -- another matter of great dispute in spite of strong evidence in one direction -- I discovered this weekend that my parents both believe he is a Muslim. I don't, but I don't think he is really a Christian, either. It seems pretty clear that he attended Jeremiah Wright's church in order to get street cred in Chicago rather than because he had a sincere religious attachment to the church. The fact that he could pretend not to know Wright's radical viewpoint in spite of having been in the church for 20 years shows how seriously he must have taken the message. And then he could say that it was impossible to disown Wright, only to disown him a week later after Wright made another incendiary speech. No, Obama was no follower of Wright in a spiritual sense. He has all the earmarks of an atheistic liberal intellectual. Mind you, I don't particularly care what religion he is -- he could be a Southern Baptist, a Muslim, or a Buddhist, and I would still disagree with almost all of his policies. But I think it's a charade that few people accept to say that he is a Christian.

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