The XX Factor

It Was Never About the Birth Certificate

Amanda , I’m afraid you are right about the birthers not going away even now that President Obama has released the long-form birth certificate they’ve been whining about for three years.

As long as Obama ignored the calls to release his “real” birth certificate (not the short-form version that he released in 2008), I figured he was following the advice attributed to Mark Twain: “Never argue with a fool, as onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” But now he has released the certificate, and if nothing else is accomplished, he’s at least proving that that adage doesn’t always hold true. Because the birthers have merely closed ranks and fired back with charges that it doesn’t matter if he was born in Hawaii or not, because his father wasn’t. (And we’ve known that as long as we’ve known Obama, so why all the clamor for the birth certificate?)

As the Constitution doesn’t actually define what a “natural born citizen is,” birthers are relying on the Federalist Papers and other ages-old documents trying to explain what the Framers meant. And as long as they can cite those archaic papers, there will be no convincing them.  Having forgotten some of the specifics of my 11 th -grade American history class, I spent some quality time with Google this morning, and here is what I found.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper No. 68 :
These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?

Rep. John A Bingham, on the House floor, in 1866
Every human being born within the jurisdiction of the United States of parents NOT OWING ALLEGIANCE TO ANY FOREIGN SOVEREIGNTY , is, in the language of your Constution itself, a natural-born citizen. (Emphasis mine)

Birthers are also particular fans of Minor v. Happersett , an 1875 Supreme Court case that was actually a case about women’s suffrage, in which the opinion stated that “there have been doubts” about the citizenship rights of  “children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their [p168] parents.”

Never mind that the Federalist Papers, however important they might be as historical documents, are not legally binding; or that whatever someone might say in the halls of Congress does not become law upon being spoken.  As long as these writings can be cherry-picked to prove their point, the birthers will go on.

My first reaction to the news that Obama was going to release the document this morning was one of resignation-Why indulge the crazies?  But now I see it as a shrewd move in the game of political chess.  He gave them what they wanted and moved on. Still , they whine and whine. Even worse, fans of nutty Donald Trump are already giving him credit for “making” Obama do this and see this as some kind of success. In the process, they are making themselves look even worse. (Some even see the certificate’s disclosure that Barack Obama Sr. was born in Kenya as “proof” that President Obama is ineligible.)

Which brings me to another quote I came across this morning, attributed to Norman MacDonald in,  Maxims and Moral Reflections : “They that are fated to be fools, have one consolation, that they are fated also to be ignorant of it.”

Image of the Birth Certificate that wasn’t enough courtesy Wikimedia Commons.