A couple of weeks ago, Army reservist Maj. Stefan Frederick Cook challenged his deployment order to Afghanistan on the grounds that it he is not required to serve under a commander-in-chief that has not proven his eligibility for that position. Namely, Cook alleged that President Obama was not born in the United States, but rather in Kenya, where Obama’s father is from. (The president must be a natural-born citizen under the Constitution.) A few days later Cook, who says he does want to serve in Afghanistan, but has a duty to question his order, won a strange victory– his deployment order was revoked without any further explanation.
Many will remember that rumors swirled regarding the true birthplace of now-President Obama during the presidential campaign last year. To be honest, I didn’t pay any significant attention to the matter. Particularly at issue was/is the absence of Obama’s long-form birth certificate. True, the Obama camp has produced a secondary Certification of Live Birth (that shows Obama was born in Hawaii), which is a document that can be procured several years after the fact when the primary birth certificate cannot be located. Some who have examined the scanned version of the document claim to find irregularities that could call into question the certificate’s authenticity. I should also mention that Snopes.com finds these kind of allegations “absurd,” and even points to birth announcements in local Hawaiian newspapers for Barack Obama in 1961. But then there’s this— supposedly showing that a left-wing blogger admitted to forging the Certification of Live Birth. And I could have posted many more links that support either side of this story.
Aside from the actual forensic elements of the case, upon which I am thoroughly agnostic (don’t let the length of back story fool you; this is not a post assessing the proof that Obama was born in Hawaii or Kenya, or expressing an opinion either way), the whole matter raises several interesting issues.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the various iterations of the birth certificate controversy is that although it’s lingered for months, it could go away in five minutes if the White House would just release the long-form birth certificate. But suppose you are the president, who has a very valid Hawaii birth certificate– would releasing the document be akin to negotiating with terrorists or in any way be dignifying the allegations of a vocal fringe? I think it’s easy to think that it should be beneath someone to respond to crazies. Yet at the same time, those “crazies” comprise a perhaps ever-growing portion of the president’s constituency. Additionally, the Obama camp seemed acknowledge the issue by releasing the Certification of Live Birth (if indeed it was not a blogger’s forgery). So, haven’t they already tried to assuage the skeptics’ questions? Why not go the full ten yards then and put an end to this by releasing the official birth certificate? But would it really put the matter to an end, or would some people start claiming that the “official” birth certificate was also a fraud? I think the latter is very likely. Perhaps the administration sees this as a never-ending controversy, so why keep feeding it at its current stage?
And, if you are the president’s men, might keeping such an issue alive paint the other side in an irrational, conspiracy-happy light? I’m not unconvinced such could be used for the left’s political advantage, although I’m not specifically alleging they are doing so– just mentioning it as a possibility.
If you are on the right, is this an issue worth fighting over? I’ve seem some of my conservative friends roll their eyes when another person asserts that Obama is a Muslim or that he was born in Kenya. I understand this sentiment completely, for several reasons. First, it’s probably a waste of time to keep insisting on something that is likely to be proven wrong. Two, these kind of battles steal credibility from conservatives and makes them look like sore losers, searching for any far-fetched excuse to defeat Obama. And third, it’s easy to imagine that a lot of the vocal fringe are doing exactly that– they are being disingenuous by looking for everything and anything that could topple the president. If these were serious legal scholars, insisting on the integrity of the rule of law under the Constitution, and sincerely questioning the nature of Obama’s birth in that context, it would be one thing. But it seems like many are exploiting the issue simply because they don’t like Obama and his policies, which probably colors their reliability and credibility on the whole issue. If they are proven wrong here, it’s likely that they’ll just move onto something else that calls into question Obama’s presidential legitimacy, and create other distractions for the majority of conservatives, which would rather wage battles on the actual merits of the president’s policies.
And it’s unfortunate that the vocal fringe has a credibility problem, because indeed, this controversy does implicate a serious constitutional issue, one which I think is worthy to insist upon exploring objectively. But by now the situation is so politically charged that it’s improbable too many will appreciate the fact that some people could actually raise the issue in an honest manner. (And though I’m not familiar with the process, one wonders why a person who appears on a presidential ballot should not be required to produce conclusive evidence of that candidate’s eligibility for the office.)
Perhaps the last wrinkle of this multifaceted story that I’ll expound on here does go to whether Obama was born here or there– what if the vocal skeptics are actually right? This is a possibility that I think most of us write off too easily, but something we should seriously assess, given some compelling evidence that hey, these guys could be right. (It’s not as if all conspiracy theories are untrue.) After all, if someone’s case is really so absurd, it should be easy to dismantle it– but why hasn’t that been done here then? I.e., why can’t the adminstration simply release the long-form certficate? And given that it is arguable someone in the military would actually have standing to sue on whether Mr. Obama is a legitimate president under the Constitution– unlike other dismissed federal cases on this issue in which mere voters did not have standing because they could not allege specific harm– why was Maj. Cook’s deployment order revoked without further explanation?