The ReThink Blog

Starting from scratch in politics and science


What if the Birthers are Right?

Barack Obama's birth certificate
The birth certificate released by the White House last week (click for larger image)

Last Wednesday, the White House released a certified copy of the President's long-form birth certificate in order to prove that President Obama was born in Hawaii, which does qualify, believe it or not, as part of the United States of America. No doubt this marks the end of the insanity of the "birther" movement, and from this point forward, nobody will embrace such a silly conspiracy theory again or try to argue that Barack Obama is not a natural-born American citizen, because conspiracy nuts always back down in the face of such evidence.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the birthers, the basic idea is that Barack Obama is ineligible to be president because only natural-born citizens can hold the high office and Obama, apparently, was born in Kenya or something. A few high-profile people have embraced this idea, most recently the reality TV icon and collosal national embarassment (redundant, I know) Donald Trump, and they have been demanding for years that the president release his official birth certificate. Though the birthers are the brunt of jokes and few people would openly admit to being one, poll after poll shows that a shockingly large portion of the population is concerned about this matter.

Against my better judgment, I have researched it myself, just to be certain. Rest assured, I have not become enamoured with the birthers, but it did force me to stop and consider the potential ramifications. What if--against all logic, reason, and evidence--the birthers are actually right? What if Barack Obama, the Hawaii state government, and scores of others colluded to alter history, ever so slightly, so that the man could qualify for the presidency?

Billboard: Where's the Birth Certificate?
I'll pay anyone who's willing to climb onto this billboard and scrawl the web address of this page as an answer

Images come to mind of the seas rising up to engulf our coastal cities, Russia and China raining nuclear fire down on the mainland, Texas and Arizona seceding and staring a war with Mexico, irradiated zombies coming in hordes from the Rocky Mountains to infect and/or eat the brains of survivors, hippies forming naked communes where they smoke weed with abandon and discuss the value of Marxism and universal healthcare all across the country, the bowels of Hell opening up and Satan's gaping maw mashing down on the souls of the innocent, and the French nodding their heads in approval. This is what you might assume would happen if it should be proved that Obama wasn't born in Hawaii.

To see if this hypothesis is correct, let's examine history for precedents. Believe it or not, anywhere from eight to ten other presidents weren't born in the United States (depending on how you count). And these weren't just any old presidents, either; these are some of the big boys like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. These guys weren't born in the USA because the USA didn't exist when they were born. Technically speaking, they were natural-born British citizens, and they were presidents at a time when Britain was still considered the enemy. It's frankly shocking, given the assumptions of the birther movement, that our country wasn't torn asunder by the foreign influence of these un-American men.*

*Technically, they get around the eligibility requirement because the Constitution does say that they qualify as long as they were "a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution," but that's beside the point. I'm not here to get into meaningless minutiae like the law or facts; I'm here to discuss the birther movement.

President Chester A. Arthur
President Arthur: even if he was a citizen, his presidency raised all kinds of questions about whether beard style and length should be included as eligibility requirements

Another interesting bit of historical trivia that may be relevant is that President Obama isn't the first president to have a conspiracy theory spring up around his birthplace or citizenship. Chester A. Arthur, the 21st POTUS and the guy who took over for President Garfield after the lasagna-loving cat was assassinated, also had to shrug off the annoyance of people questioning whether he were eligible for the presidency on the basis of his birth. Rumors spread that he was born in Canada or Ireland, which clearly would have meant that he was less human than an American and unworthy to hold the most powerful office in the nation. Most shockingly, President Arthur's citizenship was never proved, and again, the country wasn't ripped apart from within by the end of his three and a half year term.

Still, I concede that it may be possible that those early presidents shouldn't count, that Chester A. Arthur was the victim of mean-spirited propaganda, that President Obama isn't an American citizen, and therefore that he is the harbinger of Armageddon. After all, isn't that why our forefathers made it a requirement for presidents (and later vice presidents, as required by the Twelfth Amendment) to be natural-born citizens of the United States? Those words in the Constitution are an arcane incantation that keeps the Dark One at bay, right?

The generally assumed reasoning behind the citizenship requirement is exemplified by a letter written to George Washington by John Jay in 1787, in which he stated that it would probably be wise "to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government, and to declare expressly that the Command in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen." Basically, the reasoning is that we don't want a foreign influence to take charge of the government or army. Are we certain that birthright is really the best way to ensure this? I'm not the first person asking the question. In fact, there have been several attempts to amend the Constitution so that certain politicians--Barry Goldwater and Arnold Schwarzenegger in recent times--could be eligible despite not being natural-born citizens. All attempts have failed, of course.

Obama in Kenya
"Also, from now on, all white people shall be known as 'American-Africans'!"

This raises another question: what do the birthers think is going to happen? Do they expect President Obama to address the nation one fateful night and say, "Muhahahaha! I have taken control of your mighty American military and have taken the reigns of your puny government, all for the good of the beloved Motherland of Kenya"? If that happens, no doubt we'd look to somebody like Schwarzenegger to save us, which raises all kinds of other troublesome questions.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is about what will happen if the birthers prove that Barack Obama wasn't born in the USA. Inevitably, it would start all kinds of political chaos and divide our already polarized partisan landscape. Republicans would work to impeach the president while Democrats would struggle to pass a retroactive Constitutional amendment that would loosen the eligibility requirement. If either of these things happen, there are repercussions to contemplate. If the Democrats pass an amendment, wouldn't that work counter to what the birthers want? If we should be worried about the end of days because a foreigner has taken root in the White House, wouldn't the amendment make that threat worse?

But that's not the worst that can happen. If it can be proved that Obama is ineligible for the presidency, the Republicans might succeed in impeaching him, leaving us under the care, discretion, wisdom, and rationality of President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. Seriously, if the cold sweats and nocturnal screaming of that thought doesn't make you back down, birthers, you guys are far crazier than we already think you are. Really, Satan's gaping maw might be preferable to that nightmare.

-e. magill 5/4/2011

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