I am probably stepping into a swamp here and will come to regret this, but one rather obvious point about birth certificates has been bugging me. If someone is demanding to see a birth certificate, they usually aren't worried about the blace of birth that much, are they? Maybe in Hawaii, or in places where there are lots of immigrants, POB is a big issue, but more usually, two other things are what are under suspicion: date of birth or paternity. Date of birth comes up in things like Little League World Series. Before DNA testing, birth certificates were considered important documents when paternity was at issue.
Until recently, we could never be sure about anyone's paternity. Resemblance was often strong enough that no one seriously questioned it, as in my family, where my great-grandfather Charlie Wyman looks a fair bit like me, and a whole lot like my brother. With my Romanian sons, the story is a bit different, and they speculate they may have different biological fathers, whatever the certificate says. The woman's character, both her continence and her honesty, were also considered sufficient testimony in many cases. The state's interest was merely in having some male take official responsibility - whether anyone was telling the truth didn't matter much, so long as someone would stand up and sign on the dotted line.
Birth is a pretty difficult thing to hide or invent, but paternity questions are of necessity nine months removed from birth, and less frequently, er, witnessed by others. So we develop legal structures to put as much of it to rest as we can, so the arguments don't go on forever. In Obama's case, there's a legal document that declares he was born in Hawaii on whatever date, listing his parents. (It does list Barack Sr as the father, doesn't it? He was married to the mother. I've never heard anything different.) The legal case is thus closed. I understand there were accusations that there was a source document preceding the birth cert which was not released, and I always found that odd, but didn't put much stock in that. I just figured there was something embarrassing about it, like Kerry's military record, and wondered what could still be embarrassing now. I may have wondered whether there was actually another father listed, but as place of birth was what was challenged, and subsequent behavior by his mother was irresponsible enough that such a revelation would hardly make much difference - especially now, when such things are more common and don't carry the stigma they would have in the 1960's.
No, that doesn't add up either. If Barack, Sr shows up on the more modern certification, that can only have come from whatever the source document was. Am I right in that assumption? Wouldn't it have to work that way? Still, Obama's been cute about it, so I figure there's something. I don't have any other theories that occur to me.
What occurred to me this week, out of the blue, is that if there's a paternity question then Obama's whole fascinating Dreams of my Father narrative turns into something a lot more boring - just a mother who preferred to have sex with men of color for some reason. And so that would lead to what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it questions. I do figure that the boring narrative would have made him a lot less electable, even though it would settle the eligibility question.
The funny thing is, we're going to know the answer in 20, 30, 40 years. The DNA testing is improving so rapidly, and becoming more common, that we will likely be able to run the labs and say Yup. Definitely some East African DNA here, or Nope. Everything's West African. We might get to watch another of those Thomas Jefferson things unfold before us.