To be eligible to be president of the US, one must meet the ‘natural born citizen’ constitutional requirement of Article II, Section 1. It is accepted that if one is born in the US, then this status is automatically conferred on you. This is why the birthers are so desperate to show that Obama’s birth occurred elsewhere.
But isn’t the fact that his mother was a citizen (and no one as yet has challenged that, as far as I know) mean that he is a natural born citizen, irrespective of where in the world he was born or the citizenship status of his father? Yes, that is usually true, even though some birthers like Orly Taitz seems to be under the mistaken impression that both parents need to be citizens and since his father was not, that disqualifies Obama.
But if, for the sake of the argument, one concedes that Obama was born overseas to just one American parent, there is an interesting legal wrinkle about how natural born citizenship is determined is such cases. It is then not conferred automatically but requires that certain additional criteria (set by Congress) be met and those criteria have changed over the years. At the time of Obama’s birth, if he was born outside the US, a technical and narrow reading of the eligibility criteria could be used to assert that he did not meet the criteria to be a natural born citizen, though I doubt that a court would rule that way. For those interested in such legal fine points, and if you want to impress your friends at parties with legal esoterica, I went through all this in some detail back in July 2009 (see part 1 and especially part 2).
As I said in part 2, in addition to all its problems of fact, the birther case suffers from serious plausibility problems.
Like all such elaborate theories, the birthers’ case first requires you to accept a highly implausible premise. In reality, all this is moot since no reasonable person could doubt that Obama was born in Hawaii. To think otherwise is to create a preposterous scenario in which Obama’s mother secretly went to Kenya (without leaving any discernible trail) to deliver her baby there (why?) and yet was savvy and influential enough to create an elaborate scheme with the collusion of Hawaii government officials to have his birth recorded in Hawaii and provide him with faked birth certificates even now. They also must have colluded with two Hawaiian newspapers to run contemporary birth notices of Obama’s birth. All this in order to make him eligible to run for president decades in the future.
Remember that even if Obama had been born in Kenya and did not meet the criteria for being a ‘natural born’ citizen, it would have been easy for him to become a naturalized citizen because his mother was a citizen. The only reason for this elaborate charade on his mother’s part is to make him eligible to run for president, the one and only job in the US that requires ‘natural born’ citizenship. If she was ambitious, smart, far-sighted, and knowledgeable enough to go to all this trouble to make her son appear eligible for the presidency, surely she would have simply had the baby in the US and been done with it?
The birthers’ would benefit from studying the logic of David Hume who explained how to judge the credibility of extraordinary claims: “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.”
We should at least be thankful that no one is urging that the body of Obama’s mother be exhumed and DNA tests done to establish that he is actually her son and not some changeling. We should also be thankful that Obama’s citizenship did not come via an American father and foreign mother. One shudders at the ghastly additional theories and demands for proof that would have been proposed in such a case.
And as an added bonus, here is a two-part segment on the birthers on The Colbert Report from July 2009 where in the second part Colbert interviews Taitz. I did not realize until I watched it again that in addition to being a lawyer, real estate agent, and dentist, she also has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Truly she’s a renaissance woman.
In part 1, Colbert reviews the birther case.
In part 2, he interviews Taitz.
(These clips were aired on July 28, 2009. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)