Amid the huge media pile-on that's gradually taking down the Birther fantasy, nobody's actually bothered to point out that almost every element of their argument is based on a near-total ignorance about how U.S. citizenship works.
There's nothing like moving abroad (which I did five years ago) to make you acutely aware of exactly what being an American citizen means, and who gets to claim it, and how that privilege is gained or lost. Living abroad is a sort of involuntary immersive education in citizenship law. My life, liberty, and property depend daily on the agreements worked out between my home country and my adopted one; and even the most mundane travel and financial choices are deeply affected by the rights and protections granted to me by each country. (If you think dealing with one federal tax authority is bad, try reconciling the demands of two.) Based on this working understanding of U.S. citizenship, three things have become obvious to me:
I'm well aware that trying to introduce objective reality into this whole irrationally absurd mess is probable futile. We all know that a conservative whose mind is that thoroughly made up (in both senses of the phrase) will never be persuaded by mere facts. Still, there are people out there—especially on our side—who are reality-based enough that this kind of information will matter. So I'm giving it the old Firing Back try. Here's the rundown:
1. Obama doesn't have a valid birth certificate. Or if he has, nobody's ever seen it.
False. A sealed (stamped, in other words) copy of Obama's official state-issued birth certificate has been available since spring of last year to anyone who wanted to view it. Many media outlets, from factcheck.org  to World Net Daily, took them up on it. (The factcheck.org piece pretty much takes apart every possible objection.)
When a birther screeches, "I DEMAND that he present his birth certificate," ask them: Present it to whom? When? In what form? Under what circumstances? What would you consider to be sufficient evidence? It's apparently not good enough that the Obama campaign presented it freely to reporters -- or even that World Net Daily verified it.
Under this line of questioning, it will soon become obvious that anybody making this demand will accept no proof short of holding it in their own hands and seeing it with their own eyes -- which ain't gonna happen. At some point, they're going to need to drop the paranoia and trust somebody to do the vetting for them. Who would they accept as a proxy? Odds are, there's nobody whose word they'd be willing to take.
And that admission, right there, makes it very clear to anyone watching that this person doesn't actually give a damn about actual evidence.
2. A "certificate of live birth" is not the same thing as a "birth certificate.".
False. They are, for all functional purposes, the same thing.
The best comeback to this is to ask the blithering birther if they've got an official copy of their own birth certificate at home. If so, tell them to go take a look at it: In a lot of counties across the country, it, too, will be headed "Certificate of Live Birth." If they have a problem with that, they need to take it up with their county clerk's office, who will be glad to set them straight on this point.
The U.S. government recognizes no effective distinction between a "Certificate of Live Birth" and a birth certificate. The government will accept a sealed "Certificate of Live Birth" as sufficient evidence of citizenship in all circumstances. So do banks, notaries, corporations, and all private entities that ask for birth certs as a form of ID. (I have a lifetime history of passports, bank accounts, stock purchases, notarized contracts, marriage licenses, international visas, and even a foreign green card issued on the strength of my own "Certificate of Live Birth." None of the officials I've ever dealt with have had a moment's quibble with this document.)
This argument does have interesting roots, though. The far-right racist Sovereign Citizen movement has long made a lucrative business out of making up and "teaching" phony theories of citizenship that have no relationship with actual American law. (These theories, of course, are mostly aimed at proving that only native-born white males have any rights worth respecting in America. And yes, the perpetrators of this fraud have frequently gone to jail for it.)
This "live birth" controversy is merely the latest in a long series of efforts by racists to concoct some kind of new, rarified standard of citizenship that has nothing to do with the standards set by the government itself. In that, it's a clear statement that the Birthers don't regard the US government as legitimate; and there's a nasty racist undercurrent at work here that's trying very hard to disqualify Barack Obama from the presidency because he's black (since everybody knows black people aren't Real Americans).
3. The birth certificate matters.
4. Where he was born matters.
5. The citizenship of his father matters.
False. None of this matters. The only thing that matters is whether or not his mother was a U.S. citizen.
Accept, for the sake of argument, the unproven contention that Obama was born abroad. In that case, according to the U.S. State Department's website, here's the rule that applies:
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 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.
Nobody has yet tried to argue that Obama's mother wasn't a citizen. According to everything we know about her, she was born and raised in the U.S. And that, right there, is enough to establish the American birthright citizenship of her son. Nothing else is required.
The birthers insist that the above clause doesn't apply because 1) she was living abroad when she had him (though they have never provided proof of this claim); and 2) Obama's mother was only 18 when she had him, which means that she hadn't yet completed the "five years after the age of 14" part of the residency requirements. In other words: Assuming Obama was born somewhere other than Hawaii (a big leap right there), his mother was a year too young to transmit citizenship.
Let's invite the birthers to take this into court, and see what happens. I suspect that no judge in the land would be willing to set a precedent that would revoke the citizenship of all children of alien fathers born abroad to American mothers simply because of the mother's age. I mean, seriously. If Mom was 20 when you were born, you're a citizen—but if she was 18, you're not? Sorry. The law is badly worded, granted; but unlike the birthers, the government takes citizenship much too seriously to revoke it on the basis of that kind of trivial loophole.
This point is critical, because Stanley Ann Dunham's own unequivocal citizenship status makes the whole fuss over the birth certificate, his father's nationality, or the place of birth totally irrelevant. If his father was the Man in the Moon and she'd birthed him in low-gravity orbit around Mars, he'd still be a US citizen on the strength of her citizenship (plus, as we'll see below, her decision to raise him in the US) alone.
6. Obama's mother renounced his citizenship while the family was living in Indonesia.
No such evidence. The story here is that Obama's mother listed him as "Indonesian" when filling out an elementary school application; and this is taken as evidence that she renounced U.S. citizenship on his behalf.
Trust me: It takes a hell of a lot more than this to renounce a U.S. citizenship. Again, according to the U.S. State Department's website, there are three non-negotiable steps that must be taken to renounce one's American citizenship:
A person wishing to renounce his or her U.S. citizenship must voluntarily and with intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship:
- appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer,
- in a foreign country (normally at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate); and
- sign an oath of renunciation
Renunciations that do not meet the conditions described above have no legal effect. Because of the provisions of section 349(a)(5), Americans cannot effectively renounce their citizenship by mail, through an agent, or while in the United States. In fact, U.S. courts have held certain attempts to renounce U.S. citizenship to be ineffective on a variety of grounds ...
The website goes on to say that you cannot renounce your citizenship via any agent—you have to do it in person, yourself. And the regulations state very specifically that parents absolutely cannot take this step on behalf of their minor children. Furthermore, in practice it's vanishingly rare for American consulate staffers to accept a renunciation attempt made by anybody under the age of 18.
The State Department keeps very careful records on people who renounce their citizenship. If the birthers want us to take the "renunciation" argument seriously, they need to start by producing valid government paperwork proving that Barack Obama, in person, appeared before a U.S. consulate officer and executed an oath of reununciation. We're waiting....
7. The fact that his father was Kenyan makes him a dual citizen, and thus ineligible to be President.
False (with a little True mixed in).
The true part: Obama did hold dual Kenyan citizenship until he was 21 years old— and automatically lost it on his 21st birthday. Under Kenyan law, he would have had to return to live in Kenya and claim that citizenship in order to retain it. Since he didn't, he lost it . The only citizenship he still holds is American.
If, by chance, Obama had retained that citizenship, there would be government documents proving it. Until they can produce such documents, the birthers have zero evidence for any kind of Kenyan connection.
Not that even that would matter anyway. The bottom line here is that the United States government doesn't recognize any form of dual citizenship. At all. In the government's eyes, if you're an American citizen, that's the only citizenship that matters—no matter which other countries may also try to claim you. (This is why dual American/Canadian citizens can't show a Canadian passport when crossing into the U.S.. As far as the US border officers are concerned, you're an American, period -- and they want to see your American passport. The red Canadian one cuts no ice with ICE.)
8. Obama's 1981 trip to Pakistan proves must have had Indonesian or Kenyan citizenship, because Americans couldn't go to Pakistan then.
Not only can't they manage Google; they can't even manage a calendar.
If the birthers are making any kind of claim that involves a sequence of dates, don't take it at face value. They seem to have a really hard time with keeping timelines straight.
According to factcheck.org, the New York Times travel section ran an article in August 1981 offering tips for American tourists wanting to travel to Pakistan. As you can see here , 30-day visas were readily available; no State Department advisories are mentioned; and the Pakistani government was welcoming American travelers to Lahore. So Obama could readily have taken this trip on his U.S. passport.
(Another common timeline distortion is the argument that Obama can't possibly be an American citizen, because Hawaii wasn't a state in 1961. In fact, Hawaii became a state in 1959. You could look it up.)
9. He used a Social Security number from a dead person.
Show your work, please.
Dr. Orly Taitz, mentioned above, has been making the rounds (most recently, on The Colbert Report) claiming that she's found 149 addresses and 39 different Social Security numbers linked to Obama—one of them from a man who would now be 119 years old.
Uh-huh. Back in the early 50s, Joe McCarthy stood up on the floor of Congress and claimed to be holding a file proving that there were 205 (or 57 -- the number varied on any given day) known Communists working in the federal government , too. Nobody ever saw what was in that file—William Manchester once speculated it might have been his laundry list—but Congress took his word for it, and the witch hunt was on.
Sorry, birthers. We don't take the right wing's word for this kind of stuff any more. If Dr. Taitz wants us to take her seriously, we need to see her evidence and evaluate it for ourselves. Until she does that, there's nothing about this claim that's credible.
10. Somewhere, there exists evidence that the Birthers will find acceptable.
The bottom line on shutting up a birther is to ask him or her: What would it take for you to drop this idea, and accept that you're wrong about Barack Obama? Specifically—what evidence, delivered where, evaluated by whom?
I'd lay better than even odds that they won't have an answer to this question, because this whole fantasy is entirely faith-based and thus impervious to all real-world evidence. Forcing them to come up with an acceptable refutation at least gets them to start thinking about this in reality-based terms.
We also need to point out—loudly— that they are demanding a standard of evidence from us that they are not willing to apply to themselves. If they want to be taken seriously, we demand that they start by producing the following documents:
Out here in the reality-based world, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Until we see the same level of evidence from them that they're demanding from us, there's no reason we should consider any of their accusations legitimate.