Would a Birth Certificate Matter?

the donald birtherSuddenly the birthers are back in the spotlight.

A surprising remark from Donald Trump has reinvigorated the claim that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.

Birthers demand to see a birth certificate. Would it help? I don’t think so.

I have a professional interest in this bit of racist politics. My life as a historian revolves around looking for documents, checking their authenticity, deciphering their many meanings, and explaining to others how I interpret them. So I have given the public words of birthers unusual attention.

Many birthers are just like Trump. He had never indicated any doubt about President Obama’s birth in Hawaii until last month, as he leaped into the Republican race to be President. These opportunist birthers don’t believe in anything, except that they can promote conservative causes and their own public profile by doubting the facts. The most prominent political figure to ride the birther train thus far has been Orly Taitz, a wacky sue-everyone lawyer who got on the ballot for California Secretary of State and received one quarter of the votes in the Republican primary.

Another segment of the birther lobby, the true believers, is unlikely to be satisfied with a birth certificate. Obama has already produced his Certification of Live Birth, which had no effect on the birther movement. Mere pieces of paper mean nothing to those who have gleefully incorporated the “fact” that Obama was born in Africa into their world-view and daily life. There is no body of evidence, no official pronouncement or newspaper story that could dislodge their certainty. As with Holocaust deniers and creationists, about very different subjects but with the same mindset, evidence makes no difference. The goals that are achieved by promoting these ideas, in this case the illegitimacy of Democratic politics and of the first black President, are too important to be sacrificed to evidence or logic. As in Holocaust denial, racism plays a large role, but not the only role, in the minds of the true birther believers.

Is there a significant third group among those who publicly question Obama’s birth, the skeptics, who will be convinced when the state of Hawaii produces a document? I might think so, if any birther would talk about another document in this case, the report of Obama’s birth in the two Honolulu newspapers in August 1961. How did it get there? Really doubting Obama’s birth, rather than jumping on a circus wagon to share in the attention, means explaining how and why that document was created.

No birther has done that. The true believers have their theory, involving wide and broad conspiracies across the decades. But they don’t talk about it much, because they know the rest of us would think they are even crazier. The worldwide conspiracy that could insert a false birth notice in the “Honolulu Advertiser” years ago and then make that African boy the President of the United States would have no trouble creating an authentic looking birth certificate.

So I don’t believe that new evidence will make a difference to many birthers. Those opportunists who simply use any handy weapon to gain something for themselves, without regard for truth or consequences, will find another and another, seamlessly moving on without ever addressing their hypocrisy. Many, like Trump, have been enormously successful in attracting constant public attention that way. Trump said, “People love this issue, especially in the Republican Party”. And he’s right: in February, a Public Policy Polling survey found that more than half of likely GOP primary voters believe that Obama was not born in the U.S. More recently, in another PPP poll, one quarter of Republicans said they would only vote for a birther candidate.

Steve HochstadtIn an age where people devote their lives to proving that the moon landing was faked, and that the Bush administration attacked the Twin Towers pretending to be Arabs, the birthers might even seem rational.

So I don’t think producing a birth certificate will make any difference to birthers. But I hope Obama allows Hawaiian officials to release his birth certificate. I’d like to see it. I love to see how important documents affect people’s understanding of the past. That’s why I’m a historian.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives


  1. in_awe says

    As a practical matter it really doesn’t matter at this late date whether or not Obama can produce an authentic long form birth certificate.

    As a historian, it would seem that you would express more interest in the amazing lack of a publicly accessible paper trail regarding the President’s life. There are some tantalizing questions about his citizenship at various times in his life (life and schooling in Indonesia, travel to Pakistan, college acceptance, college transcripts, etc.) and in every instance there is a road block regarding access to documents that would clarify his citizenship and behaviors at any moment in time. And those road blocks are of the President’s own making. He could grant permission to the release of reams of documents that would establish the facts of his life, yet he has spent millions of dollars of legal fees to keep them sealed. And the author lacks even the slightest bit of curiosity about them. How does that square with a “professional historian’s” natural role in truth seeking?

    The President could be pursuing a Machiavellian course that keeps these issues alive as a way to discredit and allow ridicule of his political opponents…or there may be other reasons to keep some facts under wraps.

    Much of the birther movement is grounded in a justified anger at the dichotomy shown by the American media to subject Republican politicians to extreme scrutiny while granting Obama a free pass as a candidate for the highest office. You can point to comments by such people as ol’ tingle up my leg Chris Matthews who said on air that as a journalist he has a responsibility to see that Obama succeeds. After 8 years of journalists demonstrating a craven desire to make sure that Bush did not succeed, it was an eye-opening reversal of roles based on nothing more than the party of the candidate.

    So, a fair reading of the circumstances is that the one person who could in an hour of signing authorizations to release personal records related to his life refuses to do so and expends large amounts of money to prevent the release through any other means, the courts that claim that no one has standing to legally force the release, and a media acts in seeming complicity in not seeking or pressuring for the release of the information.

    I find that it is interesting that the question of whether a candidate for high political office in this country is actually qualified to hold that office is left to the political party of the candidate to affirm. Shouldn’t we take this case as a reason to require that every candidate present his bona fides to the U.S. Justice Department for validation?

    Seriously, if there had been a similar set of circumstances surrounding George Bush’s background, would the left have taken the word of the Chairman of the RNC and let it go? I think not.

  2. Pam says

    Well, I don’t consider myself a leftie but I do know that failed Vice President Dick Cheney said the Constitution was just a piece of paper and that George W. Bush was born on Mars and never had to show his birth certificate.

  3. Bill Gibbons says

    I often wonder why ‘Democrats’ are so quick to show the same kind of sneering superiority complex that they accuse their political foes of? ‘Birthers’ are mis-named. They should be called ‘Constitutionalists,’ because it is the very Constitution of the USA that has been seriously compromised by the least vetted President in the history of the USA. People have every right to ask where the birth certificate is.

    We have STILL not seen key issues resolved regarding Obama’s eligibility to be President. Why has Obama spent millions of dollars in legal fees to avoid providing the American people with something as simple as a long-form birth certificate? The eligibility issue has major ramifications for every American, and the question still remains:

    Where IS the birth certificate?

    • says

      Bill, where is your evidence that the President is not a citizen? When did Hawaii, and the proper Hawaiian official has said that the President is a citizen, cease to be a state? Your comments demonstrate an ignorance of law and the Constitution. Birth Certificates are not even mentioned in the Constitution. For your information here is the entire paragraph on who is qualified to be President:

      Article II, Section 1. [5] No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be elgible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be elgible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

      Bill, that is the entire qualifying paragraph — note that the word Birth Certificate is not mentioned, neither short or long form. What I do see in your paragraphs is a sneering assumed superiority of no-nothingness. The Constittuion is available on line, perhaps some time spent reading it would be time well spent. I hope you also read the posting of John Scharf who speaks well to the efficacy of birth documents and the lack thereof.

      • says

        Obviously, Bill does not let the facts get in the way of his argument. If you are a Constitutionalist, you should use the document, at least, to prove your argument.

        I consider it ambiguously worded and arbitrarily interpreted while ignoring completely the Founding Document, the Declaration of Independence with regard to the “consent of the govened.” How can the Constitution be a founding document if there was another document of confederation prior to it and it comes a decade after the birth of this nation?

        However, in word and practice, no birth certificate has been required.

    • says

      Wherer does it say in that “birth certificate?” Bill? It does not say birth certificate, or social security card. It says “natural born citizen.” Hawaii has certified Obama is a natural born citizen of Hawaii. No ifs. No ands. No buts. What next? Are you going to re-write the Bible, too?

  4. says

    I have never heard Trump say that he thought that Obama was not born in Hawaii. What he has said is that there may be something on the original certificate that he dose not want to be seen.

    The Certificate of Live Birth has much less infromation on it then an original birth certificate. This being the case, please end this farce Mr. President and show the original and end this crap.

  5. says

    RARELY do I agree with you on an issue or the definition of “Progressivism.” I am a Patrick Henry Liberal who believes in liberty. I am a Lincoln Republican who believes in weighing options. I am a T. Roosevelt Republican who believes in the common sense of the people to govern themselves.

    HOWEVER, there is nothing “conservative” about Birthers or Republican about Trump. Trump is an opportunist who used campaign donations to Democrats as a bribe by his own admission when he said it was a “business decision.” As a Republican, I resent any implication Birthers are either conservative or Republican. They are, far and away, third party advocates. Will they drop the issue? No. Evidence to the contrary does not sell books or help organizing.

    A birth certificate is a state document certifying when and where you were born as well as who your parents are. A certificate of live birth indicates you were born alive. The Constitution does specify the method of proof when it says “natural born citizen.” Any proof will do and in this case the law has been fulfilled and his birth proven:

    “There have been numerous requests for Sen. Barack Hussein Obama’s official birth certificate. State law (Hawai‘i Revised Statutes §338-18) prohibits the release of a certified birth certificate to persons who do not have a tangible interest in the vital record.
    “Therefore, I as Director of Health for the State of Hawai‘i, along with the Registrar of Vital Statistics who has statutory authority to oversee and maintain these type of vital records, have personally seen and verified that the Hawai‘i State Department of Health has Sen. Obama’s original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures.
    “I, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, Director of the Hawai‛ State Department of Health, have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawai‘i State Department of Health verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawai‘i and is a natural-born American citizen. I have nothing further to add to this statement or my original statement issued in October 2008 over eight months ago.”

    Abraham Lincoln did not have a birth certificate.
    Nixon did not have a birth record until May 26th, 1942:
    “It’s a delayed birth certificate that the county clerk created in 1942 when Nixon was entering active duty in the Naval Reserves. His father swore under oath that his son, Richard, was born in the family’s home in their orange grove on Yorba Linda Blvd. in the Township of Fullerton, and that his other son, Donald, was born the next year at a residence (the home of the Milhous family — Nixon’s maternal grandmother and grandfather’s place) on Whittier Blvd. in Whittier, CA.”

    Eisenhower did not have a record of his birth until they manufactured one in 1952. No doctor or hospital is named:
    Eisenhower was allegedly born on October 14, 1890 in Denison, Texas. After receiving a letter from an undisclosed New York law firm during the 1952 presidential campaign, Harold Schmitzer, the Denison City Secretary replied that Eisenhower did not have a birth certificate filed with with the Grayson County Clerk’s Office [a now-familiar pattern in U.S. presidential genealogies].
    Roberts then requested compiled birth information from Gen. Eisenhower through Mamie Eisenhower in Denver, Colorado. The information was entered into a formal, legal birth certificate and sent to Arthur B. Eisenhower (in Kansas City, Missouri) to be notarized as an official witness to the birth.

    Do not attribute this to mere racism. There is no color to Birthers. Ignorance and incompetance are the conspiracist’s best friend.

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