Throughout the 2008 campaign, Barack Hussein Obama claimed it was a “smear” to refer to him as “Barack Hussein Obama.” The candidate had initially rhapsodized over how his middle name, the name of the prophet Mohammed’s grandson, would signal a new beginning in American relations with the Muslim world. But when the nomination fight intensified, Obama decided that Islamic heritage was a net negative. So, with a media reliably uncurious about political biographies outside metropolitan Wasilla, Obama did what Obama always does: He airbrushed his personal history on the fly.
Suddenly, it was “just making stuff up,” as Obama put it, for questioners “to say that, you know, maybe he’s got Muslim connections.” “The only connection I’ve had to Islam,” the candidate insisted, “is that my grandfather on my father’s side came from [Kenya]. But I’ve never practiced Islam.” Forget about “Hussein”; the mere mention of Obama’s middle initial — “H” — riled the famously thin-skinned senator. Supporters charged that “shadowy attackers” were “lying about Barack’s religion, claiming he is a Muslim.” The Obamedia division at USA Today, in a report subtly titled “Obama’s grandma slams ‘untruths,’” went so far as to claim that Obama’s Kenyan grandmother is a Christian — even though a year earlier, when Obama’s “flaunt Muslim ties” script was still operative, the New York Times had described the same woman, 85-year-old Sara Hussein Obama, as a “lifelong Muslim” who proclaimed, “I am a strong believer of the Islamic faith.”
Such was the ardor of Obama’s denials that jaws dropped when, once safely elected, he reversed course (again) and embraced his Islamic heritage. “The president himself experienced Islam on three continents,” an administration spokesman announced. “You know, growing up in Indonesia, having a Muslim father . . .” The “Muslim father” theme was an interesting touch: During the campaign, when the question of Barack Hussein Obama Sr.’s Islamic faith reared its head, the candidate curtly denied it with an air of what’s-that-got-to-do-with-me?
finality: “My father was basically agnostic, as far as I can tell, and I didn’t know him.” And, it turns out, the spokesman’s fleeting bit about “growing up in Indonesia” wasn’t the half of it: Obama had actually been raised as a Muslim
in Indonesia — or, at least that’s what his parents told his schools (more on that in due course).
These twists and turns in the Obama narrative rush to mind when we consider National Review’s leap into the Obama-birth-certificate fray with Tuesday’s editorial, “Born in the U.S.A.”
The editorial desire to put to rest the “Obama was born in Kenya” canard is justifiable. The overwhelming evidence is that Obama was born an American citizen on Aug. 4, 1961, which almost certainly makes him constitutionally eligible to hold his office. I say “almost certainly” because Obama, as we shall see, presents complex dual-citizenship issues. For now, let’s just stick with what’s indisputable: He was also born a Kenyan citizen. In theory, that could raise a question about whether he qualifies as a “natural born” American — an uncharted constitutional concept.
The mission of National Review has always included keeping the Right honest, which includes debunking crackpot conspiracy theories. The theory that Obama was born in Kenya, that he was smuggled into the U.S., and that his parents somehow hoodwinked Hawaiian authorities into falsely certifying his birth in Oahu, is crazy stuff. Even Obama’s dual Kenyan citizenship is of dubious materiality: It is a function of foreign law, involving no action on his part (to think otherwise, you’d have to conclude that if Yemen passed a law tomorrow saying, “All Americans — except, of course, Jews — are hereby awarded Yemeni citizenship,” only Jewish Americans could henceforth run for president). In any event, even if you were of a mind to indulge the Kenyan-birth fantasy, stop, count to ten, and think: Hillary Clinton. Is there any chance on God’s green earth that, if Obama were not qualified to be president, the Clinton machine would have failed to get that information out?
CERTIFICATE AND CERTIFICATION
So, end of story, right? Well, no. The relevance of information related to the birth of our 44th president is not limited to his eligibility to be our 44th president. On this issue, NRO’s editorial has come in for some blistering criticism. The editorial argues:
The fundamental fiction is that Obama has refused to release his “real” birth certificate. This is untrue. The document that Obama has made available is the document that Hawaiian authorities issue when they are asked for a birth certificate. There is no secondary document cloaked in darkness, only the state records that are used to generate birth certificates when they are requested.
On reflection, I think this was an ill-considered assertion. (I should add that I saw a draft of the editorial before its publication, was invited to comment, and lodged no objection to this part.) The folly is made starkly clear in the photos that accompany this angry (at NRO) post from Dave Jeffers, who runs a blog called “Salt and Light.”
To summarize: What Obama has made available is a Hawaiian “certification of live birth” (emphasis added), not a birth certificate (or what the state calls a “certificate of live birth”). The certification form provides a short, very general attestation of a few facts about the person’s birth: name and sex of the newborn; date and time of birth; city or town of birth, along with the name of the Hawaiian island and the county; the mother’s maiden name and race; the father’s name and race; and the date the certification was filed. This certification is not the same thing as the certificate, which is what I believe we were referring to in the editorial as “the state records that are used to generate birth certificates [sic] when they are requested.”