What do the birthers believe?
That Barack Obama does not meet the requirement, laid out in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, that the president be a “natural born Citizen.” Most think Obama was born in Kenya, his father’s birthplace, or in Indonesia, where he lived from 1967 to 1971. Many just suspect the president is hiding something about the circumstances of his birth—be it his birthplace, his religion, or his father’s true identity. After two years of rumors and controversy, Obama finally released his original, long-form birth certificate this week, which should put an end to the issue. But birthers won’t surrender easily, because of their conviction that a man with the president’s foreign-sounding name, dark skin, and liberal views can’t be an American. “If it could be proved that Obama was born outside the United States,” conservative columnist Matt Patterson wrote recently, “then the legitimacy of anything he has signed into law would be instantly questionable.”
When did the question first surface?
In June 2008, after Obama locked up the Democratic nomination for president. In an attempt to counter chatter that Obama’s real middle name was Mohammad, his aides released a copy of his Hawaiian “certification of live birth,” which stated that Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961. But that document only fueled further suspicion. In August 2008, lifelong Democrat Philip J. Berg, a former Pennsylvania deputy attorney general, filed the first lawsuit alleging that Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen. It was dismissed as “frivolous and not worthy of discussion,” but the rumor continued to grow. A CBS/New York Times survey conducted in mid-April found that 45 percent of registered Republicans believed the president was not born in the U.S.
Why weren’t they convinced?
Until this week, Obama had provided only the certification of live birth from the state of Hawaii, not the original long-form “certificate of live birth.” That had been kept in a bound volume at the state Department of Health. The former director of that department—appointed by a Republican governor—twice examined and confirmed the authenticity of the original birth certificate. Employees of FactCheckâ€‹.org did the same. Two Hawaiian newspapers had carried announcements of Obama’s birth in August 1961. And the state’s current governor, Democrat Neil Abercrombie, recalls congratulating Obama’s parents on the birth of their son. “I knew his mom and dad,” he said. “I was here when he was born.”
That didn’t settle it?
No. Birthers insisted that only the original long-form birth certificate would do. They noted that FactCheck.org’s major funding comes from the Annenberg Foundation, which also backed the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an educational initiative on whose board Obama once served. “The connection is strong enough, in my mind, to raise reasonable questions about the objectivity of FactCheck.org in matters regarding Obama,” Patterson wrote.
Do birthers have evidence of their own?
They’ve produced alternative birth certificates that have turned out to be forgeries. Berg supplied one listing Canada as Obama’s birthplace, but he withdrew it after a close examination revealed it had been signed by one Dudley Doright. Another vocal birther, Los Angeles dentist Orly Taitz, produced a Kenyan birth certificate issued by the Republic of Kenya, which didn’t yet exist when the certificate was supposedly printed, in February 1964. Taitz says the document was forged “to try to discredit my efforts.” Birthers also claim Obama’s grandmother admitted in a taped interview that he was born in Kenya, but in the full, unedited tape, she says through a translator that she was not present at his birth. “Sir, she says he was born in Hawaii,’’ the translator says.
Why did Obama wait so long to provide the original?
He and his aides and supporters believed that any serious attempt to satisfy the birthers’ demands would grant them a legitimacy they didn’t deserve. And they feared that releasing the original certificate would only spark a new wave of suspicion and conspiracy theories. “Any additional statement or clarification is a ‘contradiction’ or leaves ‘unanswered questions,’” said John Berryhill, an Obama supporter who spends much of his time countering birther rumors online. But when Donald Trump got national attention for openly questioning Obama’s birth, the White House gave in.
Will that end it?
Not for hard-core birthers. They suspect the long-form certificate is a forgery. As one of them wrote on FoxNews.com this week, “This just smells.’’ The newly released certificate, the skeptic continued, is “in immaculate condition for being back in 1961! Impressive. Looks more like 2008.’’ Said another: “I don’t believe it for a minute. This is just another sideshow for Obama to lie to the American people.’’ Obama, he said, is an “imposter.’’
Having it both ways
Most Republican presidential contenders have declined to disavow the birthers, choosing carefully worded statements that signal ambiguity. Michele Bachmann has been using the standard GOP formulation, saying, “I take the president at his word.” Sarah Palin said last month that Obama was “born in Hawaii,” but added that “obviously there is something there that the president doesn’t want people to see on that birth certificate.” When former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was asked why “we don’t have a birth certificate” for Obama, he said he “would love to know more,” but “what we know is troubling enough.” The next day, his spokesman said Huckabee was saying only that he would “like to know more about where the president’s liberal policies come from.” Donald Trump has been the only candidate to embrace the birthers outright. Hailing them as “really great American people,” he told Bill O’Reilly first that Obama “doesn’t have a birth certificate,” then later allowed that “he may have one but there is something on that birth certificate—maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim, I don’t know.” In recent polls, Trump’s popularity among Republican voters soared, and until this week at least, he was tied with Huckabee for the most support.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- I hate Ayn Rand — but here's why my fellow conservatives love her
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP
- Why Peter Capaldi has a bigger challenge than any Doctor Who in history
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- Why are so many parents being arrested?
- The secret to Gabrielle Hamilton's amazing grilled cheese sandwiches
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Why Halbig and the conservative war on ObamaCare will fail
Subscribe to the Week