Now that President Obama has released his long-form birth certificate, the question isn’t the tactical one: “Why not during the campaign next year?” It’s the one about his character: “Why not during the campaign in 2008?”
Birth in the United States is one of only
two three constitutional requirements for the office of president. There is nothing excessive or overly diligent about Americans demanding that a candidate’s birth on US soil be demonstrated to their satisfaction.
Once it was clear that John McCain would be the Republican Party’s candidate in 2008, there was a flurry of choking sounds from the left-wing blogosphere about his birth in the Panama Canal Zone. There was never any dispute about the facts in that case; McCain was born in 1936, and the US law conferring citizenship on the children born to Americans stationed in the Canal Zone was passed in 1937. Elaborate briefs were written on why McCain was ineligible to be president, but the whole issue was arcane and unclear.
The Senate passed a resolution in 2008 declaring McCain’s eligibility. But as the numerous articles and posts about the topic indicated, it remained a question in the minds of many. McCain, however, was forthcoming and explicit on this matter. At no point was there a concern that the public did not have all the facts. The Panama birth issue had arisen during the 2000 campaign as well, and public knowledge of it went back at least that far. The general sense about McCain’s candidacy was that the reasonable-man approach would consider him to meet the constitutional requirement.
Now, as it happens, I have always thought that if Obama had been born in Kenya, but brought to the US by his American mother as a baby, the reasonable-man approach would deem him eligible for the office too. Men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to the US as an adult, are obviously excluded by the constitutional requirement, which was intended to prevent the accession of presidents with divided national loyalties. But while there would be justifiable rule-of-law objections to a loose interpretation of the “natural-born citizen” requirement, it is not at all unreasonable to recognize that a person brought to the US as a tiny baby and raised as an American cannot be assumed to have divided loyalties based solely on the geography of his birth. This reality is one we should deal with in law, even if it didn’t apply to Barack Obama.
The peculiar thing about Obama, however, is that he didn’t see fit to simply release his long-form BC in 2008. I can’t say I know much about the whole birther narrative or what all the points of evidence were supposed to be. But some were categorical; e.g., that his paternal grandmother had said he was born in Kenya. Hawaiians reported that birth certificates had been issued in the early 1960s, shortly after statehood, to babies born overseas. It would be one thing if these questions were raised about an irrelevant aspect of a presidential candidate’s life, but they weren’t. They were related to a constitutional requirement.
Nothing justifiable was to be gained by not putting this issue to rest in 2008. It doesn’t matter why it wasn’t done. What matters is that it wasn’t done. Obama has been a uniquely secretive political official; his critics had no basis on which to judge in favor of his bona fides when the BC issue was raised (by the Hillary Clinton campaign, lest we forget).
The right thing to do was to release the long-form BC in 2008. The public had the constitutional right to have its questions satisfied. The simplest of good faith and respect for the prerogatives of the people would have led to Obama to take this action – not as a means of silencing critics, which is how he has couched it this week, but as a measure of statesmanship: of setting an example, of doing the right thing. He has owed us this all along, but it took him until now to do it.