Birther madness-2: The plot thickens

Yesterday, I pointed out that even if one takes the birthers’ highly implausible claim that Obama was born in Kenya at face value, Title 8, section 1401, subsection (g) of the U.S. Code seems to grant him natural born status since his mother was a citizen who lived in the US for at least five years, at least two of which were after the age of fourteen.

But the birthers have seized upon the fact that the requirement of years of residency in the US of the parent has changed with time. According to the U.S. State Department:

Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent in Wedlock: A child born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under Section 301(g) INA provided the citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. for the time period required by the law applicable at the time of the child’s birth. (For birth on or after November 14, 1986, a period of five years physical presence, two after the age of fourteen is required. For birth between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, a period of ten years, five after the age of fourteen are required for physical presence in the U.S. to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child. (my emphasis)

So here’s what the birthers’ case boils down to: Obama was born in Kenya in 1961 but his mother was not yet 19 at the time (she was born November 29, 1942 and Obama was born August 4, 1961) so she could not have satisfied the ‘five years after the age of fourteen’ condition that was in force at the time of his birth. Hence Obama is not a natural born citizen. Hence he is not qualified to be president. In addition, if he is not a natural born citizen, and since there is no evidence that he ever went through the naturalization process for citizenship, that would mean that he is in the US illegally and would have to be deported.

(Without getting too much into the legal weeds here, it is not clear that the courts would even apply this rule in Obama’s mother’s case because it would seem to eliminate people over something they had no control, purely because they are too young, and this might violate the ‘equal protection’ clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As is usual in such cases, the courts do not go merely by the language of the law but will likely look closely at the explicit legislative history and language to see if Congress meant to only exclude people who could have satisfied the five year residency requirement but chose not to.)

Kitty Pilgrim of CNN lays out the evidence against the birthers. (If there is any doubt that the birthers are out to lunch, one needs to look no further than the fact that Alan Keyes (Alan Keyes!) is one of them.)

Furthermore, this article in the Honolulu Advertiser should put to rest the speculations that the newspaper announcements of his birth were planted by Obama’s people in the US as part of the elaborate hoax. The article says that the newspapers’ birth notices are not inserted at the request of the parents or family but taken by them from hospital records. It should also settle the issue of whether Obama’s Hawaiian ‘Certificate of Live Birth’ that has been made publicly available is somehow less than complete and that he must produce the full document or else he is hiding something.

And what about the allegation that Obama’s step-grandmother (the second wife of Obama’s Kenyan grandfather) made a deposition that she was present when Obama was born in Kenya? That has also been debunked by Alex Koppelman.

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.”

I suspect that Obama and the Democrats are thoroughly enjoying this. Far from being a serious challenge to the legitimacy of his presidency, this issue, coupled with the insulting treatment of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court that focused so heavily on her Hispanic heritage in a negative way, is serving to further marginalize the Republican Party by making them look like a bunch of xenophobic and nativist loons.

To exploit this issue, one Democratic congressman introduced a bill celebrating 2009 as the 50th anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood. Included in the bill is a statement acknowledging that the state is also the birthplace of the current president. This put the Republicans in a quandary. Voting for this ceremonial bill might anger the birthers while voting against or being absent would make them look nutty. The bill passed 378-0, suggesting that Congressional Republicans are realizing that this is getting out of hand.

Will that be the end of the story? Not at all. For birthers, like truthers and those who deny evolution, no evidence will convince them to change their minds. What they will do when they encounter setbacks or counterfacts is expand their theory into even more extreme territory. When the inevitable happens, with a judge throwing out their legal challenge to Obama’s birth in Hawaii, they will start asking whether Stanley Dunham really was a citizen. Or if she really was Obama’s mother or whether, as part of a secret advanced fertility research program, the egg that was used to conceive Obama was not really Dunham’s but was taken from a non-citizen, fertilized in vitro, and then inserted in her. Or if all these arguments fail, suggest that there was a technical fault in the process whereby Hawaii became a state in 1959, invalidating its statehood.

It will never end for the true believers. One can only ignore the birthers. Or better still, laugh at them.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show on the birthers

And right on cue, here is Jon Stewart to laugh at them.

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  1. Peter LaFond says

    Finally, finally a liberal stood up on CNN and said what had to be said, ” you people are nuts!” It is about time. Our corporate media finally had a breakthough. Now I will say it, you people are nuts or even worse just jerks. At least an insane person can be helped and exscused, but for the jerk there is no other remedy but to be shunned. In closing, thoughm i will say that all of this just boils down to simple prejudice and onto racism. Calling them “nuts,” now that was what the Doctor ordered.

    PS psst heh birthers read the 14 amendment section 5

  2. bubbha says

    Mano, aside from the facts of this specific case, do you think the Villagers could perpetrate this type of thing if they wanted to?

  3. says


    If you mean would they manufacture things out of whole cloth, the answer is no. But they love is this kind of story because it allows for endless talk, little real knowledge or research or reporting, and is of no consequence. So they can fan this kind of thing for a long time if they want to, provided someone starts the flame. But they do not usually completely make up stuff up

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