Birthers’ Next Line of Retreat: Obama was a Dual Citizen!

by Peter Spiro

Release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate won’t satisfy the real conspiracists: they are already all over putative discrepancies in the document.  But the document doesn’t extinguish another birther argument: Obama wasn’t a “natural born citizen” because he had dual citizenship at birth.  Here’s an example from among the many birthers who have hit their comment buttons today:

Thank you, Mr President for releasing your long form birth certificate proving you are Native born to this country. Unfortunately it is also Primae facia evidence that your father was BHO Sr., not a US citizen as required by the Constitution. You were a dual citizen at the time of your birth. Your father was Kenyan/UK and you were born in Hawaii, so you had dual UK/US citizenship at birth. The Constitution requires the President be Natural born meaning a singular allegiance to the US at birth, distinguished from Native born, meaning born in the country. A Dual citizen by definition has a dual allegiance, which is expressly forbidden by the Constitution in the unique requirement for the Office of the President. Are we supposed to start ignoring the Constitution now? I didn’t get the memo, which parts do we ignore, or is it all of it?

This line is also getting picked up in various bills before state legislatures requiring presidential candidates to show that their parents were US citizens and/or that they have never maintained alternate nationality.

Obama probably did have dual citizenship (with the UK) at birth, and thereafter with Kenya until 1984.  See this excellent explanation from

But who cares?  He never acted on his British or Kenyan citizenships — he probably didn’t even know that he had them.  There’s no express prohibition on dual citizens holding the presidency.  The framers could have anticipated the prospect, as European states refused to recognize naturalization by the United States (as late as Mussolini, who claimed Italian emigrants “to the seventh generation”).  At least two other presidents — James Buchanan and Chester Arthur — had dual citizenship (with the UK) at birth.  There’s no good argument for this one.  Unfortunately, there’s no certificate that will disprove the birther case, either, and so this will just live on as a bizarre sideshow to the business of governing.

11 Responses

  1. One thought that occurred to me after this birther thing was something from the pre-Voting Rights Act South.  Back then, as many know, there were literacy tests that blacks had to take to be allowed to vote.  I was given a copy of one of those several years ago by a judge and one of the things about those tests is that the questions are identical or almost identical to the questions that were on the naturalization exam for foreigners seeking to be naturalized Americans.

    So an African-American was treated like a non-American when asserting a basic right of American citizenship.

    I think the birther reactions may come from this stream in the collective American unconscious.  One more way race plays through this thing.


  2. He could have diffused this whole mess by releasing the long form two years ago instead of having the matter fester and create difference amongst the people. He used the incident as a political football to distract from more substantive policy issues. Either you want “change” in Washington or you want to play old school kid political games.

  3. I think Ben is absolutely right.

    This is such a waste of time, a pure distraction (like that royal wedding across the pond), but hey, let’s be sure to congratulate Trump for making Obama come clean on this! Oh my!

  4. Incidentally, Obama cannot in any way be held responsible for creating or prolonging this mess: the ill will and suspect motives rest with the “birthers” and their fellow travellers. There was long ago sufficient evidence for his birth in Hawaii. No other modern president would have been subject to such nonsense. As Peter’s post shows, the folks responsible will simply move onto some other distracting nonsense: let’s just hope the mass media doesn’t indulge them like it did Trump, et al.

  5. @Patrick S. O’Donnell

    By sufficient evidence do you mean the abbreviated version (short form) of the birth certificate released in 2007, which did not have a physician’s signatures or attendants? This and other evidence was not sufficient, otherwise why release the long form? Obviously, further documentation was needed.

    Also, you can’t pin ill will all on the birthers e
    ven Oprah asked him why he waited so long to release the full documentation.

    Even if the birthers have suspect motives, the best way to neutralize that and remind people of the more important policy issues is to release the best evidence which was the long form.  

    And like you said, Trump made him release the long form birth certificate.

    “No other modern president would have been subject to such nonsense.” How do you know that? and how many modern Presidents have foreign born parents?

  6. Trump is now questioning how Obama got into Harvard Law School. I think Trump’s ideology is emblematic of what’s been called “friendly fascism,” and he exhibits all the psychologically disturbing and socially harmful traits of a demagogue and a huckster. Truly frightening.

  7. @Patrick S. O’Donnell 

    Liberals questioned how or why Bush Jr. got into HBS. And what do education creds have to do with fascism?

    As far as Trumps traits, I am not sure he is that harmful because you know where he is coming from and his end goal, which is money. IMO there are far more malicious billionaires out there that veil themselves from public eye and play puppet master, or are involved in some type of eugenic or population control scheme or outright lie to make themselves look good.

  8. I didn’t draw an explicit causal link between Trump’s questioning of Obama’s entry into Harvard Law School and his fascism (that’s more symptomatic of his megalomania, demagoguery, hucksterism, and so forth): one has to know something about what Bertram Gross termed “friendly fascism” and fascism generally to appreciate Trump’s fascist ideology (which is absolutely subservient to large corporate and financial interests).

    I don’t know anything about what liberals questioned with regard to Bush and his education and in any case find it absolutely irrelevant.

    It’s not clear that Trump’s only goal is “money,” and that’s a conclusion derived from listening to what he’s publicly stated of late: giving us his opinion on this or that public policy or political topic that is in no way first and foremost about “money.” But let’s assume his goal is “money:” subordinating raison d’État to “money” or realpolitik for that matter is no less troubling, especially given the sorts of things Trump has already publicly proposed: strong-arming oil producing countries, having the U.S. sieze Libyan oil fields, huge tariff on Chinese imports, etc., all clear recipes for disaster.

    And to know where fascists–proto- or “friendly” or otherwise–are “coming from,” is cold comfort indeed, given how susceptible the masses often are to hucksterism and demagogues….

  9. @Patrick S. O’Donnell
    I will go along with the thesis that Trump’s hucksterism and more importantly his use of the mass media for systematic manipulation is a form of fascistic influence. But guess what, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) i.e. Obamacare by definition is a fascist policy that benefited both big government and large insurance firms. So what we have is an implicit nationalization of the health care industry that requires firms to use their resources in the “national interest.” A government Mandated private health insurance market, mandatory coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, mandatory minimum essential health insurance for non exempt persons not securing minimum essential health insurance. We now have a blurring between the distinction of the private sector and the public sector and individual liberty. I think we can probably agree that both sides Red, Blue, Liberal, Conservative, are engaging in some form of friendly fascism, just with different talking points and powerful media companies i.e. Fox vs. CNN.
    Also, the questioning of Bush Jr’s educational creds by liberals is entirely relevant. How, in the same breath can someone say Trump is racist and fascist for wanting to see Obama’s transcript, presumably to see if he had the academic chops to be admitted on a competitive basis, when liberals screamed bloody murder that Bush Jr. was admitted to HBS as a student with C averages from Yale undergrad because of his money and family name. If Trump is a racist/ fascist then so are the liberals questioning Bush Jr. also fascist and of not racist highly biased. Also, if it’s ok for Bush Jr. to reveal his transcripts and take the heat why not Obama?, what is there to hide? 
    Trump does have an ego, but I doubt that he will do anything that will not enhance his balance sheet. I derive this belief from Trump’s 20-30 year business track record. Maybe he has changed as of late, but who really knows conclusively? As far as Trum’s polices are concerned, they may be disastrous, but it’s not like the USA is on sure footing as it stands.
    I agree 100% that the public is usually falls for demagogues, or others that have an enviable lifestyle—especially the billionaire kind.

  10. From the perspective of democratic values, socialist economic premises, and principles of social justice, I can find much to criticize in recent health care legislation, but the best is indeed sometimes the enemy of the good and in this instance, the status quo was morally and politically indefensible and the health care reform acts of 2010 represent tangible progress on the health care front and there’s nothing whatsoever fascist (or unconstitutional for that matter) about them. 

    Bush’s educational credentials were suspect and Obama’s were impeccable. The latter is heads and shoulders above the former when it comes to an intelligence quotient (used in a non-technical and loose sense). Bush’s silver spoon never left his mouth, while Obama’s educational and political career represent the desirable properties and effects of a would-be meritocratic educational system.   

    The problem is not Trump’s possession of an ego but rather its gargantuan size and the corresponding exhibition of psychopathological symptoms and features.

    Please have the last word as I’m done commenting in this thread.

  11. @Patrick S. O’Donnell

    I am not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that “there’s nothing whatsoever fascist (or unconstitutional for that matter) about” the health care law. The classic model of fascism is control of industry indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners. So when Big Gov, rather than consumers, determines what good or services are produced and under what conditions that is fascism. The unconstitutionally is still an unknown—so we will see what the Divine 9 have to say. In any event Mussolini would be proud.

    Also, how can you be sure Obama’s creds are impeccable if you can’t see a college transcript?, I mean Bush and Obama both graduated from great schools, so that can’t be a metric. Anecdotally, I have known people that acted “dumb” in college, were socially awkward, yet they were the brilliant on paper. So you can’t judge a book by its cover. Heck if Obama’s creds are sterling, by that I mean a graduate with Latin Honors, I would imagine he we be glad to release the transcripts. So much for better government transparency he promised on the campaign trail.

    Why is it that you conflate feel good metrics i.e. personality to book smarts? With all the angst against demagogy, charlatans and cult of personality worship, why don’t you demand more transparency and vetting?  I am open for all Presidents as a requirement for office to release transcripts, tax returns, and birth certificates.

    That’s it. Thanks for the debate and last word.

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