Obama's birth certificate: The issue will last as long as his presidency.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 27 2011 7:31 PM

Birtherism Is Dead. Long Live Birtherism.

The history of a national embarrassment, and why it's not over yet.

(Continued from Page 1)

"Techdude delivers a final report that exceeds my wildest expectations," blogged Pamela Geller in July 2008. "It is irrefutable, empirical evidence—Obama's birth certificate is a forgery."

The early birthers were conservatives and Clinton supporters, people with intense interest in denying the presidency to Obama by any means necessary. The Hillary supporters did some of the hardest digging. It was one of them, going by the name TexDarlin, who took up a challenge to find a contemporary birth announcement for Obama in 1961 Honolulu newspapers. In late July 2008, she found two of them. (Her original post announcing this has been deleted.)

That wasn't enough to put the fire out. In August, before the Democratic convention, a Philadelphia attorney named Phil Berg, whose most recent high-profile lawsuits had been filed to bring attention to 9/11 conspiracy theorists, filed a lawsuit against Obama. The lawsuit was a bouillabaisse of discredited claims. Berg resurrected that 2007 CNN story about Obama's Indonesian school to argue—without basis—that Obama must have given up his citizenship in the 1960s.


Berg got nowhere, but he kept pushing. In October, an Anabaptist bishop named Ron McRae released what he claimed was a recording of a call to Sarah Obama, a Kenya-based relative of the candidate who'd become somewhat famous (the image of a woman in an African village with an "Obama" sign was irresistible), in which she admitted she was in the room when Obama was born in Kenya. But that wasn't what was actually on the tape. No matter—it made it into another Berg filing.

The lawsuits continued after the 2008 election. They stayed on the fringe. Alan Keyes had run a vanity presidential campaign, and lost, but he'd grown interested in the conspiracy theory. Orly Taitz, a Moldova-born dentist with a law degree from a correspondence course, and Gary Kreep, helped Team Keyes file a lawsuit arguing that his rights as a candidate had been violated by Obama's lack of proof of citizenship. Some of the lawsuits made it to the review process at the Supreme Court, but no further. Radio hosts were starting to talk about this, but no one with real political clout took the birthers seriously.

This would change.

Birtherism, the Democratic tactic: March 2009 to January 2011

In March 2009, with very little fanfare, Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., introduced one of his first pieces of legislation.

"To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee's statement of organization a copy of the candidate's birth certificate, together with such other documentation as may be necessary to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility to the Office of President under the Constitution."

For the first time, an elected office-holder had indulged the birther theory. Before this point, there was no reason to ask a Republican if he bought into that stuff. Now there was. A dozen Republicans co-sponsored the Posey bill. Fringe-curious reporters (and here I'll raise my hand) and liberal blogs covered it all with amazement. A liberal videographer named Mike Stark tailed Republican members of Congress to get their takes on the story.

At the time, Democrats saw an advantage in making Republicans look crazy. On May 26, 2009, for the first time, a birther question made it into the White House press briefing. Les Kinsolving of WorldNetDaily, the conservative site that promoted or investigated birther theories on an hourly basis, was called on by then-press secretary Robert Gibbs.

"In consideration of this very good promise of transparency," asked Kinsolving, "why can't the president respond to the petition to requests of 400,000 American citizens by releasing a certified copy of his long-form birth certificate listing hospital?"

Kinsolving was drowned out by laughter.

"Are you looking for the president's birth certificate?" asked Gibbs. 



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

Even by Russian Standards, Moscow’s  Anti-War March Was Surprisingly Grim

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 11:13 AM Your Own Personal Rand Paul How the libertarian hero makes his foreign policy contradictions disappear.
Sept. 22 2014 12:07 PM Divestment Isn’t the Answer To destroy demand for fossil fuels, universities can do a lot better than just selling some stocks.
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 12:00 PM Dear Prudence Live Chat For September 22, 2014.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:21 PM Watch John Oliver Take on Miss America
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 11:32 AM South Park Takes on Washington’s NFL Team and Its Terrible Name
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.