15 Apr 2011

Obama can't laugh off birth rumours

Our Washington Correspondent, Sarah Smith, reports on President Obama’s attempts to lay to rest Republican rumours that he was born outside the USA. And Republican fears that the row could rebound on them.

President Obama is already hitting the campaign trial, getting ready for the 2012 Presidential race. He was at a huge fundraiser in Chicago last night – which is going home for him.

“I wasn’t born here,” he joked with the audience. “I was born in Hawaii. But I became a man here in Chicago.”

Sounds like he isn’t taking too seriously the persistent rumours that he wasn’t born in America and therefore can’t legally be President. But is the “birther” controversy getting more serious?

At the same time yesterday the Arizona State legislator passed a Bill requiring US Presidential candidates to prove they were born in the USA by providing their birth certificate.

If the Republican Governor Jan Brewer signs the Bill, Arizona will become the first State to pass this kind of “Birther Bill”. But 13 more States are looking at doing the same thing.Republicans in Arizona insist that this move is not aimed at Obama personally. But they seem to have deliberately written their legislation to invalidate the certificate of live birth that Obama has already made public.

President Obama's birth certificate

This document actually says on the front of it “this copy provides prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding”. But that doesn’t seem to be good enough for Arizona.

They want to require candidates to submit documents which include the name of the hospital in which the child was born, as well as the name of the attending physician and the signatures of any witnesses.

You will notice that Obama’s certificate doesn’t have any of these details on it.

There is a widespread belief in America that Obama has only released a short, edited version of his birth certificate and that somewhere there is a more detailed long-form version. The authorities in Hawaii have said repeatedly that this certificate of live birth is the only kind of document the State releases. And the director of the Health Department is on the record saying she has personally seen the official birth certificate in the State’s register.

But these pesky facts don’t stop “birthers” from speculating that Obama is trying to hide some kind of damaging detail that’s included on the long-form certificate. They whisper that maybe his middle name isn’t Hussein – it’s Muhammad. Or that the long document has some damaging information about his father.

These rumours have been going around for years. And Obama usually ignores them. But today he waded into the argument, saying he thinks the story plays to his political advantage.

He told ABC News: “I think that over the last two and a half years there’s been an effort to go at me in a way that is politically-expedient in the short-term for Republicans, but creates, I think, a problem for them when they want to actually run in a General Election, where most people feel pretty confident the President was born where he says he was, in Hawaii. He doesn’t have horns.”

It is true that many mainstream Republicans are worried that this story is damaging to them. They know it makes them look stupid and probably racist if they are associated with “birthers”.

But that doesn’t stop some Republican wannabes using the issue to get publicity for themselves. Donald Trump hasn’t stopped going on about it since he discovered how easy it is to launch yourself into the headlines by questioning the President’s birthplace. Trump claims that he has investigators in Hawaii who are discovering new evidence – but he hasn’t revealed what.

Sarah Palin hates to be left out of anything, so she has waded in too, saying she thinks the President has something to hide. And Palin’s alter ego Michelle Bachmann has hinted at the same thing.

There are some grown-ups in the Republican Presidential field – people like Mitt Romney, who has said he firmly believes Obama is an American citizen. But their voices are easily drowned out by the birther conspiracy theorists.