Born in Kenya, Birtherism, and What-if-erism

“That’s funny right there” – Larry the Cable Guy

Oh boy, the conservative-leaning news sites were buzzing yesterday with the latest scandal in the “Obama was born in Kenya” narrative. As you can see from the cutout to the right, there was once a page in a booklet from 1991 touting Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, as “born in Kenya” … now that’s funny.

The story was broken by Breitbart, the former site of Andrew Breitbart who recently died of heart failure. The site notes that Breitbart believed, before his death, that Obama was in fact born in Hawaii, and was never what has been called a “birther” believing the born-in-Kenya line. But it’s clear that somebody believed it.

Yes, obviously somebody believed and still believes Obama was born in Kenya – the birthers. But I’m sure that Obama’s publicist, who was using this page until 2007 interestingly, also apparently believed at one point that Obama was born in Kenya. Or perhaps they just grabbed the page from the 1991 pamphlet and reused it – but that means that somebody in 1991 believed that Obama was born in Kenya. But who?

Is it possible that Obama himself used the born-in-Kenya line? Well, if somebody believed it back in 1991 then it is almost surely true that Obama is the one who told them. So what does this mean? Well, it is very possible that in 1991 the current president found it more socially appealing, more mysterious and exotic to claim a Kenyan birth. Heck, he may have gotten special treatment from various university institutions, or maybe it was just easier to get girls if they thought he was from Kenya instead of Hawaii. Or who knows, maybe he was actually born in Kenya.

For my part, I think I’ve made my views clear enough in the past. I don’t actually care where he was born – other than the fact that if he was born in Kenya it makes for some pretty interesting theater. I don’t hold the same view of “natural born citizen” as most on the right. To my mind it simply means “citizen at birth” which was a more difficult concept to define when folks were born before the founding of the country – thus the obfuscated “natural born citizen” usage. Today this is not a problem. He was born to an American mother, we have long held that this implies citizenship, thus he was born a citizen. (No, I’m not a legal scholar, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty who would disagree with me – but they don’t write this blog.)

Regardless, just for a second, let’s put down the partisan politics. There is some probability – and it is not infinitesimal – that Obama was actually born in Kenya. “But he has a birth certificate” – actually, several apparently. “This is just a theory by right-wing cranks” – pretty much. It’s always those who want to believe something who will believe it first. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong, it just means they’re first.

For that matter, consider the global warmists, who hold the [in my mind absurd] view that human emissions of carbon dioxide are driving global temperatures. The first folks who believed this theory are the ones who wanted to believe it. The “people are evil and are destroying the planet and will some day get what they deserve” folks. So far I’ve been unimpressed by the evidence, but heck, they might be right. I suspect they’re not, and I suspect the next 20 years will demonstrate serious flaws in their theory. Still, there is truth out there somewhere.

Now, with the case of the birthers or the global-warmists, I don’t ascribe to “what-if-erism” as an actionable philosophy. It reminds me of a time back in the 90s when folks wanted to chuck Newt Gingrich out of office over some charges that were levied, for no other reason that “the seriousness of the charge” (I kid you not). “But what if those allegations are true? We have to get rid of this guy.” Hey, eventually the truth will out. Gingrich was gone soon enough.

As for Obama, I suspect this is all much-ado-about-nothing. Yes, he might have been born in Kenya, and he might have been born in Hawaii. There’s evidence on both sides and enough “weirdness” to say it’s not an obvious answer. No, it doesn’t matter at this point (and I don’t think it should matter at all). That is, if you take “matter” to mean having an impact on the future leadership of this country. It does matter if you like railing punditry and conspiracy theories … which is fair enough.

On a slightly different note, when it comes to the election Obama’s troubles have nothing to do with where he was born. I still think the guy has a 50-50 chance of re-election, but the polls are not looking good. The RCP average of polls has him up by 2.4 points, 46.1-43.7. But if you split the polls into the ones with “likely voters” versus the ones with “registered voters” a different story emerges. The “registered voters” have it 46.6-41.6, a 5 point edge. But the “likely voters” (the far more predictive sample) have it at 45.5-46.3, a 0.8 point deficit. An incumbent pulling in only 45.5% amongst likely voters at this point in the game is not a good sign for said incumbent … unless he can get a viable third party candidate to join the race. Anybody seen Ron Paul lately?

(On that note, I’d like to push the theory that Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have struck a deal. Paul gets out of the race now, which he did a few weeks ago, and agrees not to run a third party campaign – and Romney takes Rand Paul as his VP. No, I have absolutely NO evidence, and am thus likely wrong … but I just wanted to write it down so that if I’m right I could point back to this post and declare myself a genius. And if I’m wrong … well, I seriously doubt my stature could fall any lower than it already is, so no harm done.)

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