National Review's Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).
Throughout the 2008 campaign, Barack Hussein Obama claimed it was a "smear" to refer to him as "Barack Hussein Obama." The candidate had initially rhapsodized over how his middle name, the name of the prophet Mohammed's grandson, would signal a new beginning in American relations with the Muslim world. But when the nomination fight intensified, Obama decided that Islamic heritage was a net negative. So, with a media reliably uncurious about political biographies outside metropolitan Wasilla, Obama did what Obama always does: He airbrushed his personal history on the fly.
Suddenly, it was "just making stuff up," as Obama put it, for questioners "to say that, you know, maybe he's got Muslim connections." "The only connection I've had to Islam," the candidate insisted, "is that my grandfather on my father's side came from [Kenya]. But I've never practiced Islam." Forget about "Hussein"; the mere mention of Obama's middle initial - "H" - riled the famously thin-skinned senator. Supporters charged that "shadowy attackers" were "lying about Barack's religion, claiming he is a Muslim." The Obamedia division at USA Today, in a report subtly titled "Obama's grandma slams 'untruths,'" went so far as to claim that Obama's Kenyan grandmother is a Christian - even though a year earlier, when Obama's "flaunt Muslim ties" script was still operative, the New York Times had described the same woman, 85-year-old Sara Hussein Obama, as a "lifelong Muslim" who proclaimed, "I am a strong believer of the Islamic faith."
Such was the ardor of Obama's denials that jaws dropped when, once safely elected, he reversed course (again) and embraced his Islamic heritage. "The president himself experienced Islam on three continents," an administration spokesman announced. "You know, growing up in Indonesia, having a Muslim father . . ." The "Muslim father" theme was an interesting touch: During the campaign, when the question of Barack Hussein Obama Sr.'s Islamic faith reared its head, the candidate curtly denied it with an air of what's-that-got-to-do-with-me? finality: "My father was basically agnostic, as far as I can tell, and I didn't know him." And, it turns out, the spokesman's fleeting bit about "growing up in Indonesia" wasn't the half of it: Obama had actually been raised as a Muslim in Indonesia - or, at least that's what his parents told his schools (more on that in due course).
These twists and turns in the Obama narrative rush to mind when we consider National Review's leap into the Obama-birth-certificate fray with Tuesday's editorial, "Born in the U.S.A."
The editorial desire to put to rest the "Obama was born in Kenya" canard is justifiable. The overwhelming evidence is that Obama was born an American citizen on Aug. 4, 1961, which almost certainly makes him constitutionally eligible to hold his office. I say "almost certainly" because Obama, as we shall see, presents complex dual-citizenship issues. For now, let's just stick with what's indisputable: He was also born a Kenyan citizen. In theory, that could raise a question about whether he qualifies as a "natural born" American - an uncharted constitutional concept.
The mission of National Review has always included keeping the Right honest, which includes debunking crackpot conspiracy theories. The theory that Obama was born in Kenya, that he was smuggled into the U.S., and that his parents somehow hoodwinked Hawaiian authorities into falsely certifying his birth in Oahu, is crazy stuff. Even Obama's dual Kenyan citizenship is of dubious materiality: It is a function of foreign law, involving no action on his part (to think otherwise, you'd have to conclude that if Yemen passed a law tomorrow saying, "All Americans - except, of course, Jews - are hereby awarded Yemeni citizenship," only Jewish Americans could henceforth run for president). In any event, even if you were of a mind to indulge the Kenyan-birth fantasy, stop, count to ten, and think: Hillary Clinton. Is there any chance on God's green earth that, if Obama were not qualified to be president, the Clinton machine would have failed to get that information out?
Certificate And Certification
So, end of story, right? Well, no. The relevance of information related to the birth of our 44th president is not limited to his eligibility to be our 44th president. On this issue, NRO's editorial has come in for some blistering criticism. The editorial argues:
The fundamental fiction is that Obama has refused to release his "real" birth certificate. This is untrue. The document that Obama has made available is the document that Hawaiian authorities issue when they are asked for a birth certificate. There is no secondary document cloaked in darkness, only the state records that are used to generate birth certificates when they are requested.
On reflection, I think this was an ill-considered assertion. (I should add that I saw a draft of the editorial before its publication, was invited to comment, and lodged no objection to this part.) The folly is made starkly clear in the photos that accompany this angry (at NRO) post from Dave Jeffers, who runs a blog called "Salt and Light."
To summarize: What Obama has made available is a Hawaiian "certification of live birth" (emphasis added), not a birth certificate (or what the state calls a "certificate of live birth"). The certification form provides a short, very general attestation of a few facts about the person's birth: name and sex of the newborn; date and time of birth; city or town of birth, along with the name of the Hawaiian island and the county; the mother's maiden name and race; the father's name and race; and the date the certification was filed. This certification is not the same thing as the certificate, which is what I believe we were referring to in the editorial as "the state records that are used to generate birth certificates [sic] when they are requested."
To the contrary, "the state records" are the certificate. They are used to generate the more limited birth certifications on request. As the Jeffers post shows, these state records are far more detailed. They include, for example, the name of the hospital, institution, or street address where the birth occurred; the full name, age, birthplace, race, and occupation of each parent; the mother's residential address (and whether that address is within the city or town of birth); the signature of at least one parent (or "informant") attesting to the accuracy of the information provided; the identity and signature of an attending physician (or other "attendant") who certifies the occurrence of a live birth at the time and place specified; and the identity and signature of the local registrar who filed the birth record.
Plainly, this is different (additional) information from what is included in the certification. Yet, our editorial says that "several state officials have confirmed that the information in permanent state records is identical to that on the president's birth certificate [by which we clearly meant 'certification']," and that the "director of Hawaii's health department and the registrar of records each has personally verified that the information on Obama's birth certificate [i.e., certification] is identical to that in the state's records, the so-called vault copy." (Italics mine.)
That misses the point. The information in the certification may be identical as far as it goes to what's in the complete state records, but there are evidently many more details in the state records than are set forth in the certification. Contrary to the editors' description, those who want to see the full state record - the certificate or the so-called "vault copy" - are not on a wild-goose chase for a "secondary document cloaked in darkness." That confuses their motives (which vary) with what they've actually requested (which is entirely reasonable). Regardless of why people may want to see the vault copy, what's been requested is a primary document that is materially more detailed than what Obama has thus far provided.
Now, let's address motives for a moment. Are some of those demanding the full state records engaged in a futile quest to prove Obama is not a U.S. citizen? Are they on what the editors call "the hunt for a magic bullet that will make all the unpleasant complications of [Obama's] election and presidency disappear"? Sure they are. But not everyone who wants to see the full state records falls into that category. I, for one, have very different reasons for being curious.
Who Is This Guy?
Before January 20 of this year, Barack Obama had a negligible public record. He burst onto the national scene what seemed like five minutes before his election to the presidency: a first-term U.S. senator who actually served less than four years in that post - after a short time as a state legislator, some shadowy years as a "community organizer," and scholastic terms at Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard that remain shrouded in mystery. The primary qualification supporters offered for Obama's candidacy was his compelling life story, as packaged in 850 pages' worth of the not one but two autobiographies this seemingly unaccomplished candidate had written by the age of 45.
Yet we now know that this life story is chock full of fiction. Typical and disturbing, to take just one example, is the entirely fabricated account in Dreams from My Father of Obama's first job after college:
Eventually a consulting house to multinational corporations agreed to hire me as a research assistant. Like a spy behind enemy lines, I arrived every day at my mid-Manhattan office and sat at my computer terminal, checking the Reuters machine that blinked bright emerald messages from across the globe. As far as I could tell I was the only black man in the company, a source of shame for me but a source of considerable pride for the company's secretarial pool. They treated me like a son, those black ladies; they told me how they expected me to run the company one day. . . . The company promoted me to the position of financial writer. I had my own office, my own secretary, money in the bank. Sometimes, coming out of an interview with Japanese financiers or German bond traders, I would catch my reflection in the elevator doors - see myself in a suit and tie, a briefcase in my hand - and for a split second I would imagine myself as a captain of industry, barking out orders, closing the deal, before I remembered who it was that I had told myself I wanted to be and felt pangs of guilt for my lack of resolve. . . .
As the website Sweetness & Light details, this is bunk. Obama did not work at "a consulting house to multinational corporations"; it was, a then-colleague of his has related, "a small company that published newsletters on international business." He wasn't the only black man in the company, and he didn't have an office, have a secretary, wear a suit and tie on the job, or conduct "interviews" with "Japanese financiers or German bond traders" - he was a junior copyeditor.
What's unnerving about this is that it is so gratuitous. It would have made no difference to anyone curious about Obama's life that he, like most of us, took a ho-hum entry-level job to establish himself. But Obama lies about the small things, the inconsequential things, just as he does about the important ones - depending on what he is trying to accomplish at any given time.
In the above fairy tale, he sought to frame his life as a morality play: the hero giving up the cushy life of the capitalist "enemy" for the virtues of community organizing. But we've seen this dance a hundred times. If Obama wants to strike a connection with graduating students in Moscow, he makes up a story about meeting his "future wife . . . in class" (Barack and Michelle Obama met at work). If he wants to posture about his poverty and struggle in America, he waxes eloquent about his single mother's surviving on "food stamps" so she could use every cent to send him "to the best schools in the country" (Obama was raised by his maternal grandparents, who had good jobs and were able to pull strings to get him into an elite Hawaiian prep school).
If he wants to tie himself to the civil-rights struggle of African Americans, he tells an audience in Selma, "There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma . . . so [my parents] got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born" (Obama was born in 1961, four years before the civil-rights march in Selma - by which time his parents had divorced and his mother was planning a move to Indonesia with the second of her two non-African-American husbands). If he wants to buy a home he can't afford, he "unwittingly" collaborates with a key fundraiser (who had been publicly reported to be under federal investigation for fraud and political corruption). If he wants to sell a phony stimulus as a job-creator, he tells the country that Caterpillar has told him the stimulus will enable the company "to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off" (Caterpillar's CEO actually said no, "we're going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again").
The fact is that Obama's account of his background is increasingly revealed as a fabrication, not his life as lived; his utterances reflect the expediencies of the moment, not the truth. What is supposed to save the country from fraudulence of this sort is the media. Here, though, the establishment press is deep in Obama's tank - so much so that they can't even accurately report his flub of a ceremonial opening pitch lest he come off as something less than Sandy Koufax. Astonishingly, reporters see their job not as reporting Obama news but as debunking Obama news, or flat-out suppressing it. How many Americans know, for example, that as a sitting U.S. senator in 2006, Obama interfered in a Kenyan election, publicly ripping the incumbent government (a U.S. ally) for corruption while he was its guest and barnstorming with his preferred candidate: a Marxist now known to have made a secret agreement with Islamists to convert Kenya to sharia law, and whose supporters, upon losing the election, committed murder and mayhem, displacing thousands of Kenyans and plunging their country into utter chaos?
A Muslim Citizen Of Indonesia
The aforementioned Indonesian interval in Obama's childhood is instructive. Obama and the media worked in tireless harmony to refute any indication that he had ever been a Muslim. It's now apparent, however, not only that he was raised as a Muslim while living for four years in the world's most populous Islamic country, but that he very likely became a naturalized citizen of Indonesia.
Shortly after divorcing Barack Obama Sr., Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, married an Indonesian Muslim, Lolo Soetoro Mangunharjo, whom she met - just as she had met Barack Sr. - when both were students at the University of Hawaii. At some point, Soetoro almost certainly adopted the youngster, who became known as "Barry Soetoro." Obama's lengthy, deeply introspective autobiographies do not address whether he was adopted by the stepfather whose surname he shared for many years, but in all likelihood that did happen in Hawaii, before the family moved to Jakarta.
Under Indonesian law, adoption before the age of six by an Indonesian male qualified a child for citizenship. According to Dreams from My Father, Obama was four when he met Lolo Soetoro; his mother married Soetoro shortly thereafter; and Obama was already registered for school when he and his mother relocated to Jakarta, where Soetoro was an oil-company executive and liaison to the Suharto government. That was in 1966, when Obama was five. Obama attended Indonesian elementary schools, which, in Suharto's police state, were generally reserved for citizens (and students were required to carry identity cards that matched student registration information). The records of the Catholic school Obama/Soetoro attended for three years identify him as a citizen of Indonesia. Thus Obama probably obtained Indonesian citizenship through his adoption by Soetoro in Hawaii. That inference is bolstered by the 1980 divorce submission of Ann Dunham and Lolo Soetoro, filed in Hawaii state court. It said "the parties" (Ann and Lolo) had a child (name not given) who was no longer a minor (Obama was 19 at the time). If Soetoro had not adopted Obama, there would have been no basis for the couple to refer to Obama as their child - he'd have been only Ann Dunham's child.
In any event, the records of the Catholic school and the public school Obama attended during his last year in Indonesia identify him as a Muslim. As Obama relates in Dreams from My Father, he took Koran classes. As Obama doesn't relate in Dreams from My Father, children in Indonesia attended religious instruction in accordance with their family's chosen faith. Moreover, acquaintances recall that young Barry occasionally attended Friday prayers at the local mosque, and Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's half-sister (born after Lolo and Ann moved the family to Jakarta), told the New York Times in a 2008 interview, "My whole family was Muslim, and most of the people I knew were Muslim." In fact, back in March 2007 - i.e., during the early "Islamic ties are good" phase of Obama's campaign - the candidate wistfully shared with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof his memories of the muezzin's Arabic call to prayer: "one of the prettiest sounds on earth at sunset." Kristof marveled at the "first-rate accent" with which Obama was able to repeat its opening lines.
The point here is not to join another crackpot conspiracy, the "Obama as Muslim Manchurian Candidate" canard. Obama was only ten years old when he left Indonesia; there is no known evidence of his having made an adult choice to practice Islam, and he is a professed Christian. The point is that he lies elaborately about himself and plainly doesn't believe it's important to be straight with the American people - to whom he is constantly making bold promises. And it makes a difference whether he was ever a Muslim. He knows that - it's exactly why, as a candidate, he originally suggested his name and heritage would be a selling point. Obama's religious background matters in terms of how he is perceived by Muslims (Islam rejects the notion of renouncing the faith; some Muslims, like Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, make no bones about regarding Obama as a Muslim; and - as the mainstream media took pains not to report during the campaign - it is suspected that significant illegal donations poured into the Obama campaign from Islamic countries and territories). Obama's religious background also matters in terms of how he views American policies bearing on the Muslim world.
When Did Information Suddenly Become A Bad Thing?
While it is all well and good to belittle the birth-certificate controversy, without it we'd know only what the media and Obama himself would tell us about his multiple citizenships, which is nothing. As noted above, we now know Obama, by operation of British and Kenyan law, was a citizen of Kenya (a status that lapsed in 1982, when he turned 21). That's something voters would find relevant, especially when Obama's shocking 2006 conduct in Kenya is considered. But we don't know about his Kenyan citizenship because the media thought it was newsworthy. We know it only because of the birth-certificate controversy: Pressed to debunk the allegation that Obama was born in Kenya, his embarrassed supporters felt compelled to clarify his Kenyan citizenship.
By contrast, the question whether Obama ever was an Indonesian citizen is still unresolved, as are such related matters as whether the foreign citizenship (if he had it) ever lapsed, and whether he ever held or used an Indonesian passport - for example, during a mysterious trip to Pakistan he took in 1981, after Zia's coup, when advisories warned Americans against traveling there. By the way, many details about that journey, too, remain unknown. Obama strangely neglected to mention it in his 850 pages of autobiography, even though the 20-year-old's adventure included a stay at the home of prominent Pakistani politicians.
There may be perfectly benign answers to all of this. But the real question is: Why don't the media - the watchdog legions who trekked to Sarah Palin's Alaska hometown to scour for every kernel of gossip, and who were so desperate for Bush dirt that they ran with palpably forged military records - want to dig into Obama's background?
Who cares that Hawaii's full state records would doubtless confirm what we already know about Obama's birthplace? They would also reveal interesting facts about Obama's life: the delivering doctor, how his parents described themselves, which of them provided the pertinent information, etc. Wasn't the press once in the business of interesting - and even not-so-interesting -news?
And why would Obama not welcome Hawaii's release of any record in its possession about the facts and circumstances of his birth? Isn't that kind of weird? It would, after all, make the whole issue go away and, if there's nothing there, make those who've obsessed over it look like fools. Why should I need any better reason to be curious than Obama's odd resistance to so obvious a resolution?
There's speculation out there from the former CIA officer Larry Johnson - who is no right-winger and is convinced the president was born in Hawaii - that the full state records would probably show Obama was adopted by the Indonesian Muslim Lolo Soetoro and became formally known as "Barry Soetoro." Obama may have wanted that suppressed for a host of reasons: issues about his citizenship, questions about his name (it's been claimed that Obama represented in his application to the Illinois bar that he had never been known by any name other than Barack Obama), and the undermining of his (false) claim of remoteness from Islam. Is that true? I don't know and neither do you.
But we should know. The point has little to do with whether Obama was born in Hawaii. I'm quite confident that he was. The issue is: What is the true personal history of the man who has been sold to us based on nothing but his personal history? On that issue, Obama has demonstrated himself to be an unreliable source and, sadly, we can't trust the media to get to the bottom of it. What's wrong with saying, to a president who promised unprecedented "transparency": Give us all the raw data and we'll figure it out for ourselves?
By Andrew C. McCarthy
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online