How fact-free claims about Obama's citizenship gained mainstream currency

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The false allegation that President Barack Obama was born in another country is more than a fact-free smear.

Marked by accusations and backstabbing, it's the story of how a small but intense movement called"birthers" rose from a handful of people prone to seeing conspiracies, aided by the Internet, magnified without evidence by eager radio and cable TV hosts, and eventually ratified by a small group of Republican politicians working to keep the story alive on the floors of Congress and the campaign trails of the Midwest.

It's a powerful story about what experts call political paranoia over a new face in a time of anxiety and rapid change - the sort of viral message that can take hold among a sliver of the populace that's ready to believe that their new president is a fraud, and just as ready to angrily dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as part of the conspiracy.

Related Links

  • Slate: What If Obama Really Was Born in Kenya?
  • World Net Daily: Is this really smoking gun of Obama's Kenyan birth?

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    Donald Wolberg - 8/5/2009

    Indeed, yawn.

    Jonathan Dresner - 8/5/2009


    Donald Wolberg - 8/5/2009

    Unfortunately, it appears there are now three more officers and I understand at leas one enlisted person with the same challenges pending. Apparently the commanding officer who approved the change in orders has not stated wh told him to approve the change (nor may he be required to do so). The original case is proceeding further, beyond just the change in orders, by theway.

    Finally, there are standards to research and research problems that are of interest for the historicity involved and the basic documents themselves, and for the reactions, frequently of greater interest. One must wonder why the actual, real, substantial documents are not just released. One look at the real birth document would end all the speculation. One interview with the Kenyan officials stating that the Kenyan document of birth is a fraud would end the discussion. And one interview with the African grandmother, in which she suggested she was in error, would end the discussion. One wonders if persons so dedicated to a political nuance always fail to have an interest in matters of history. That is a question that only Mr. Dresner can answer. The back story, I suggest, is just as interesting as the story out front.

    Jonathan Dresner - 8/5/2009

    The fact that some orders to excuse the challenging soldiers from reporting as assigned is odd, very odd. In fact, these are offenses that require courts martial. Who gave the orders to free the soldiers from reporting and why? This is another interesting mystery.

    One soldier, a National Guard officer who volunteered for deployment so that he could refuse the orders, had his orders rescinded because the Army understands something I should remind myself of: Don't feed the trolls.

    Donald Wolberg - 8/5/2009

    Mr. Dresner does make interesting points, but I suggest they are more reflective (and reflexive) of the lack of substance in these rejoinders and do not address core issues of the situation. Firstly, apparently the officials in Hawaii have said that there are NO original paper documents and that these were all disposed of when the state went to electronic records, so Mr. Dresner is incorrect about actual documents. Unless of course the meaning of documents needs revision. Secondly, my point was that if Mr. Obama or his Hawaiian family still surviving retains the original, for real, actual, paper document, it should be released. This has NOT happened suggesting the logical conclusion that it likely has been lost and not available. Most of us have access to our original birth records. One also wonders why there are no hospital records of the birth, such as medical files, footprints, blood amples, insurance documents, all reflecting the birth day, time, place, parentage at a U.S. hospital. If he was born at home, surely there was an attending doctor, or midwife, licensed and approved who can be named. The other response by the "doubters" of course is that none of these documents have been produced because they do not exist. The issue can all go away if any of these documents were produced. The discovery of new Kenyan documents must be addressed. The latest are seemingly not flawed and do reflect a birth and have the appropriate signatures and records. If these are flawed, they should be corrected again by the production of the original U.S. documents.

    The fact that some orders to excuse the challenging soldiers from reporting as assigned is odd, very odd. In fact, these are offenses that require courts martial. Who gave the orders to free the soldiers from reporting and why? This is another interesting mystery.

    Finally, the grandmother's reporting cannot be so easily dismissed. The dear lady has repeatedly stated that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya; difficult to confuse this with Hawaii. Similarly, the actions of Mr. Obama's mother and his stated Indonesian citizenship does make for a fascinating historic/legal problem. Grandparents do take very seriously the births of new grandchildren. And the grandmother's reprt now has a real paper buttress, the new Kenyan documents.

    All of this would vanish if Mr. Obama simply responded to the documents and reports at hand and indicate why they are false. That there has been no factual denial is very odd, but makes for great historical analysis.

    One suggests that Mr. Dresner's inability to simply strike a reflexive posture indicates a "blockage of reason" rather than a substantive retort.

    Jonathan Dresner - 8/5/2009

    There is no mystery about the Hawaii birth certificate: what's been made available is the same state-certified copy that everyone gets when they request a copy, and state officials have confirmed the existence of the original paperwork -- which is more than they do for most of us.

    The grandmother was mistaken. It happens.

    The citizenship issues have all been resolved, except for people who refuse to actually look at the evidence when it's offered: it's out there, and not hard to find, so your raising it as an issue is basically evidence that you yourself are not taking an evidence-based approach to reality.

    Donald Wolberg - 8/5/2009

    Historic evidence is frequently a jumble of fact and non-fact; prehistoric "evidence" sdoes belong in quotes. But the saga of Mr. Obama's birth and the "missing years" in Asia take on a mystery that some see as conspiracy, others as the search for the missing years of Shakespeare or even Jesus. Mr. Obama is of course much to intellectually flawed a character to be really compared to really significant persons. For example,he was not sure if "he had visited 57 of our 59 states," or, "we need to do aways with all forms of carbon," or his not knowing Reverend Wright was so "odd," or that Mr. Ayers was a terrorist, or that in his own book he admits a liking for alcohol and drugs during his college years (of course that liking stppped after graduation).The "birth" issue, never an immaculate conception (at least not yet), has long been the subject of speculation. Perhaps some of this was generated by the candidate, now President, and his supporters as an issue of use to deflect substantive questions of experience or real capabilities. All of it could have been put to rest long ago by the simple production of a single document, the original birth certificate from Hawaii. But that did not and has not happened. Then there is the troubling issue of the statements of Mr. Obama's Kenyan grandmother that he was indeed born in Kenya. The grandmother was soon made "not available" for interviews. Oh well, old people get silly and forget (or in this case remember wring). Why would she ever, ever think her grandson was born in Kenya?
    The other substantive issue, never addressed, apparently centers on the claim that Mr. Obama's mother later married an Indonesian gentlemen and moved to Indonesia, where she renounced her citizenship and took the name of her new husmand, and had her son also take the new name, all supposedly making him and Indonesiancitizen as well and allowing his attending an Indonesian Muslim school. This interlude lasted a while but his peripatetic mother seems to have not wanted to remain in the relationship. The issue here as I recall was whether she ever reapplied for American citizenship for herself and her son, whom she apparently deposited back in Hawaii with her parents, and he resume his old name of Obama, but the new name of Barry.
    All of this could easily have been addressed one assumes, by the production of a document showing the divorce, and the reassumption of citizenship, but leaves open the question of Mr. Obama's reassumed citizenship as a determining factor for the job of President,i.e., if any of this is true of course.

    Thus, the citizenship issue remains as a curious sidelight to the election of Mr. Obama, along with all the other issues that seem to have eluded "history." The military sidelight becomes more interesting, and one remains curious who gave the orders to release the soldiers from their orders. In any event, this stroy is not over, but to caste all the doubters in a negative light seems unhistoric, and antiscientific; it is the data that matters, not the politics.