The title of this post should surprise few ordinary, non-conspiracy-theorist citizens, and may not even surprise that many in the birther rank & file. After all, the premise of the birther movement draws its strength from a belief that President Obama is an “other” — different, and therefore inferior. Of course, if President Obama were somehow found to have been born beyond our shores, he would be inferior, legally speaking, as he would be unable to legally serve as President. But the inflation of a legal technicality — implemented by the Founders as an afterthought, and only to prevent de-facto “recolonization” by a foreign commander-in-chief — into the last bulwark of republican government, ought to raise a few eyebrows.
As the birthers have gained prominence, the racist origin of this little conspiracy theory has receded, promptly covered up by the new spokespersons, who just “want their country back.” To uncover the birthers’ true motivations, then, we must go beyond the current movement, and return to where it started. Where, then, did the “birthers” get their beginning?
Our quest begins with a typology. As Caesar would say, “Birthers” sunt omnis divisa in partes duo: all of the birthers can be divided into two parts, those who focus on the place of the President’s birth, and those who focus on the nature of his birth. Because the former are simply too crazy for words, and their racism is fairly self-evident, our interest is the latter, to whom we may refer as “legal theory birthers.”
“Legal theory birthers” are — relatively — the more respectable of the set. The fact that the President was born in Hawaii is simply undeniable, and most legal theory birthers will concede as much, albeit grudgingly (see also, Orly Taitz on YouTube). But this doesn’t end the issue. For legal theory birthers, the President’s ineligibility stems not from the place of his birth, but the fact that his father, Barack Obama Sr., was never an American citizen: to legal theory birthers, like Orly Taitz, a natural born citizen is one who was not only born on American soil, but was also born to two American citizen.
This theory couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the Supreme Court categorically rejected it over 100 years ago, in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1897). In spite of this seemingly fatal flaw, the “pureblood parentage”* theory of natural born citizenship forms the basis for the claims of birther “Queen Bee,” Orly Taitz, who has employed it in all of her spectacularly failed litigations.
However, the “pureblood parentage” theory is not original to Orly. In fact, it’s over a year old, predating both Orly’s rise to infamy and President Obama’s election. On July 25th-26th, 2008, the PUMA blog “TexasDarlin” ran two articles by “Judah Benjamin,” since deleted, boosting what he called the “divided loyalties” theory of citizenship. As near as I can tell, Benjamin’s hopelessly flawed theory of the meaning of “natural born citizenship” is the earliest piece of birther nonsense setting forth this restrictive reading of Article II of the Constitution. He found many imitators, and the idea eventually worked its way into Orly Taitz’s “briefs.”
Remarkably, Judah Benjamin lacked both the presentability and polish of Taitz. For one, he wasn’t a lawyer, and it showed. And he was, and presumably remains, a naked racist. Judah Benjamin is (obviously) a pen name, taken from Judah P. Benjamin, a prominent Civil War statesman — for the other side. Why TexasDarlin’s Judah Benjamin thought a Confederate statesman remarkable enough to use his identity as a nom de plume becomes instantly clear, if you read more of his work. Like the Judah Benjamin of the American Civil War, the Judah Benjamin of TexasDarlin fame looks askance at federal power, and considered Reconstruction, and the Reconstruction Amendments, a grievous insult to the South. Yes — Judah Benjamin, the founder of “legal theory birther-ism,” not only doubts the validity of President Obama’s election. He doubts the validity of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, collectively the engines by which our nation repaired itself after the Civil War, and through which the equal rights of all Americans are secured. In other words, Judah Benjamin had an ulterior motive for fabricating his narrow definition of citizenship: he wasn’t trying to build a theory that secured the country from foreign influence. He was trying to roll back the clock on American history.
Movements need not suffer for their founders. But the birthers of 2009 share a complete identity with “Judah Benjamin’s” 2008 warped theory of citizenship, suggesting that the hyper-narrowness of the birther definition of “natural born citizenship” isn’t a side effect — it’s precisely the point. For Judah Benjamin, and those who follow in his footsteps, the birth certificate “controversy” isn’t about Barack Obama. It’s about keeping the children of immigrants out of the White House.
* = Harry Potter joke intended. Orly Taitz is basically a blond Bellatrix Lestrange.