Sunday, July 04, 2010

Birth Certificate

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.

17 comments:

james said...

I was born in Louisiana back when the birth certificate required the race of the child. Perhaps O's certificate lists "white"? He might find that a trifle embarrassing.
Or remember Mike Royko's adventure with his birth certificate?

gs said...

Wow. The blogosphere's haystack of birth certificate posts has a needle.

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.

It would also imply that Obama is driven by a denial more serious, and more dangerous, than has been suspected to date.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Maybe. But james' needle may be the sharper. It would make no difference now, of course, but early in his campaign, there was question whether Obama was black enough for AA voters.

Jonathan said...

Or his mom could have destroyed his original, like mine did...

Assistant Village Idiot's wife said...

I did not destroy it! I very carefully pasted it into your baby book!

SINVILLE said...

"just a mother who preferred to have sex with men of color for some reason." Those words sound judgmental, and not necessarily accurate. I don't know how many lovers the woman had, or their races. I understood she loved his father. I agree that there is likely something embarrassing written on the original document. It was not uncommon for a physician to write disapproving comments on a birth certificate.

karrde said...

Re: race on birth certificate.

I wonder if someone entered the word "Muslim" in the slot titled "Race"?

Would someone involved have decided that this was his racial identity?

Though I suspect that the paternity question is more likely than the racial question.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I doubt "Muslim" would have been entered in any event. Unless there's something about Hawaii's relation to Pacific culture which escaped me.

Sinville, if his paternity is other than Barack, Sr., then that would make three partners of color, no known white partners. That would have been extremely unusual in 1960. If I sounded judgmental, it was more because that would be such an odd thing, not a wrong thing. For a woman to have a tatoo in 1950 would be a red flag for pathology, though as we see today, a tatoo on a woman is not in itself pathological.

Point taken, though. I'll have to put that better if I have cause to use it again.

Gringo said...

I agree there is something.

We knew college transcripts of Gore, Kerry, and Dubya. SAT or their military equivalent for the three. We knew McCain was near the bottom of the class at the Naval Academy, due to discipline reasons. But we know nothing in those areas for Obama.

But with an autobiography written in his thirties. He definitely wants to control the narrative about his past. The comparative lack of narrative from non-BHO sources regarding his earlier life helps drives the birth certificate controversy.

While he is an American citizen, he has the least empathy with and understanding of mainstream American culture of any other President. How would he, when his time was spent in outliers such as Hawaii,Hyde Park and the Ivy League? This also drives the birth certificate controversy.

Donna B. said...

While all of theories mentioned above could be a primary reason Obama doesn't want the original record released, a secondary reason is that not doing so drives the "he's not a citizen!!" people nuts.

And I can't say I blame him in the least for reacting that way.

jaed said...

Royko's story brings us to a third theory: perhaps the original birth certificate listed his name as something other than Barack Obama. (I think I remember reading that he went by "Barry" until college age. Maybe this was his legal name at birth.)

It's the sort of trivial thing that could conceivably affect a close election or start a disenchantment cascade.

terri said...

I agree with Donna B.

If someone made a claim that seemed crazy or mean about my birth....or the kind of people arguing about it were the kind of people that spewed all sorts of venomous things about me...I would take great pleasure in refusing to be cowed to them.

'Cause I like to shoot myself in the foot like that. ;-)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

If it's a calculated "make 'em crazy" strategy, to make your opponents look like loons or engage in some strategic misdirection, I can see the cold-facts point. To do that for fun seems rather childish for a president.

I see the attraction of wanting to do that, but actually doing that is usually reserved for the Lady Gagas of the world. Can you imagine George Bush encouraging Truthers because it amused him, or because it made his opposition look crazier?

I see that it can be an effective strategy, but only because we let some people get away with it and others not.

Donna B. said...

I think there's evidence that Obama doesn't really mind behaving in a childish manner if it suits him.

Donna B. said...

And it really would be a bummer if his name were actually Harvey Hussein Obama, wouldn't it?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Or Wally

Jonathan said...

Maybe his middle name isn't really Hussein and he just chose that to blend in with Middle America and their love for all things Iraqi...

Or maybe his middle name is actually "Ass Kicker"