Obama Releases Birth Certificate. Is it Real?

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Is anything?

The White House has released President Obama’s long-form birth certificate:
This isn’t the document the campaign produced back in 2008, which is the same birth certificate anyone from Hawaii would receive if they requested a copy from the state. Instead, this new document is the one that is on record with the State, and which is normally not available.

At 8:50 am, this is how the story was reported on the Fox News website:

“White House Releases What It Says Is Obama’s Long-Form Birth Certificate” [Emphasis mine.] Now while factually correct, the statement is devoid of meaning or value. No fact can be known without it being communicated, and you can always challenge the method of communication or the communicator. Yes, the White House says this is the document. And tracing back, the State of Hawaii says that is the document, and within that huge bureaucracy, there is some individual who says that is the document.

Then in a later story, this qualifier disappears from the headline, and the story is simply “White House Releases Obama’s Long-Form Birth Certificate.” But deep within that article is the same qualifier, transformed: “Trump, speaking in New Hampshire, took credit Wednesday for the president’s decision to release the document. He said his team would have to examine the birth certificate…”

If you are pulled over by the cops for speeding, you are asked to produce your driver’s license. It would entirely unreasonable in the ordinary case for the officer to say, “This isn’t your license, this is just what you say is your license.” In that situation, the officer has the sole power to decide whether the card you gave him counts as a license or not, and you actually have no way to prove your case.

Buried in that hypothetical is the problem on display in the “birther” debate. The argument over facts–over reality–becomes an argument over who has the authority to say what reality is. When Fox ran the original headline, “White House Releases What It Says Is Obama’s Long-Form Birth Certificate”, it was implying that the White House would not have the final say on whether it actually is or is not the birth certificate. In other words, some higher authority would decide. But the higher authority was left open ended. Was is public opinion? Fox News itself?

In the second, updated article, the challenge to authority comes from the prospective Republican candidate. “His team would have to examine the birth certificate,” and presumably we can take their word for it.

News and analysis are no longer about reporting more or less of reality, or reality from a certain perspective. News has become simply challenging the various authorities that tells us what reality is. In most news coverage, it is never, “This is the fact.” It is always “So-and-so says this is the fact,” followed by an challenge from “the other side” (because there are only ever two alternatives) about so-and-so’s motives, the interests they represent, etc.

It’s hard to say when this all started, but a critical inflection point in the transformation of news from ostensibly reporting facts about the world to the reporting of people’s presentation of facts was the election of 2000. The turmoil surrounding the vote count in Florida can be simply summarized. The margin of victory was smaller than the margin of error of the vote counting techniques used. What people refused to understand and that the media either didn’t want to understand or want to report is that absolutely every single method of counting anything has a margin of error. So the truth of the Florida vote count in 2000 is that it is impossible to know with certainty who won. Period. Once the difference between D votes and R votes was within than the margin of error, then it is impossible to know for sure who who. The election could have been decided on a coin toss or a hand of poker and it would have at least yielded more certainty.

Instead, that election was decided on the basis of which party could, on an ad hoc real-time basis, maneuver within and exploit the judiciary in Florida and the Supreme Court. What was originally to be decided on facts (okay, statistics) was instead decided on argument in a court. Without really realizing it, we the electorate ceded our authority to select the President to the judiciary. The authority decided, and those who agreed withthe outcome simply accepted the authority’s statements of what was reality as reality, and those that didn’t grumbled that the authority was being unfair/impartial/etc.

Many birthers will be persuaded by the birth certificate produced by the administration. But many won’t. What do they want, do you think? What kind of person or institution declaring the matter settled would they believe? 

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27 Responses to Obama Releases Birth Certificate. Is it Real?

  1. philtrum says:

    Patricia J. Williams has written that she thinks the evolution/creationism debate is actually central to America’s culture wars, because it’s a question of epistemology. If we can’t agree on how we establish truth, on how we know things, then we can’t really communicate at all.

    This is why I’m rather disappointed in Obama’s decision to release the long-form birth certificate. I suppose it is really intended to convince people who haven’t thought about the issue much one way or another, and it makes sense on that basis, but if the White House thinks it’ll shut up the actual birthers, it’s painfully naïve. This won’t even slow them down.

    • mossmanjake says:

      I think that’s really true. Sure, the theory of evolution is just a theory, etc etc, but it’s based on something empirical, something observable. Creationism, and fundamentalist dogmas generally, all involve magic at a certain point of the explanation. “How did that happen?” “It just did.” That’s the belief in supernatural forces, which is magic. I don’t see how these two viewpoints and be reconciled because they’re based on fundamentally different logic. You can’t have a discussion of math with someone who believes to their core that 2+2=3.

      • JohnJ says:

        “You can’t have a discussion of math with someone who believes to their core that 2+2=3.”

        But what you can do is try to understand for yourself why they think so. I know it’s easier to dismiss people who disagree with us as misguided, stupid, or evil, but every once in a while, even when we think we know everything there is to know, we find out that we were the ones who were actually wrong about something.

        • lemmycaution says:

          “I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything. ” – spinal tap

          Who doesn’t believe virtually everything they read? I see the sun revolving around the earth every day, yet I read a book in second grade saying that the earth rotates and I am all “sounds good to me”.

        • philtrum says:

          But this has very little to do with “misguided, stupid, or evil”. This is about basic communication.

          I’ve encountered many people, am related to some, who cannot wrap their heads around the fact that I don’t believe in biblical or papal infallibility. When I say “just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s true”, that completely flummoxes them; how could I deny the obvious? They are as frustrated by me as I am by them.

          It doesn’t matter which one of us is actually right. What kills the discussion is that we don’t agree on how you know if something is right.

          • JohnJ says:

            The disagreement is always the other person’s fault, I presume?

          • philtrum says:

            How on earth are you getting that from “they are as frustrated by me as I am by them”?

          • mossmanjake says:

            Make my point of view 2+2=3. It doesn’t matter. I don’t think anyone who believes in different things from me is stupid, and I have no desire to change anyone else’s opinion. But when the fundamental logic of communication is so vastly different, when it’s based on two opposite methods of gathering information about our life in this universe, it makes it impossible to have that discussion.

  2. whowashere says:

    You’re right on Pastabagel, the ‘birthers’ are a reflection of the breakdown of Truth in the political sphere. There is a basic distrust of public statement of any kind- and this distrust, the total victory of the most vapid and disastrous forms of irony, immediately bled into our legal system. We became a nation that tortured (with a public debate about what ‘torture’ means replacing outcry against it, despite torture being a much easier word to define than the oft ridiculed “what ‘is’ is” Clintonian dissembling, which certainly helped pave the way for Bush’s insidious truthiness), held prisoners without trial, assassinated enemies of the president, went to war w/out calling it such, etc.

    Truth, as it is agreed upon by a judicial system (theoretically) upheld and controlled by the people, is the backbone of legal authority in a democracy- the Bush DOJ realized that as truth had failed to prevent them from taking executive power, they could probably get away with war crimes unthinkably grotesque to any president proceeding Bush (and now, with Obama’s continuation, standard Washington practice), as long as they could keep the argument from happening on a field in which truth plays a role.

    Goebbels’ lie big enough told long enough is not necessary- as long as you confuse the debate to the point of stalemate over semantics, you win the fight. This is a media strategy learned from advertising- the point is not to win an informed argument but to arouse emotional distress to the point of confusion over needs, desire, and truth. Once you reduce truth to a question of opinion, debate to an insuperable conflict between binary desires, you never have to fight on the level of actuality.

    • JohnJ says:

      “Truth, as it is agreed upon by a judicial system (theoretically) upheld and controlled by the people, is the backbone of legal authority in a democracy”

      This statement doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever. It’s like you just threw random words together.

      • whowashere says:

        I’ll admit it could be written more carefully, but let’s break it down.

        Truth is the backbone of legal authority in a democracy.
        Ok, I agree, but how do we arrive at that truth?
        Well, it is agreed upon by a judicial system that is upheld and controlled by the people.
        Ok, sure, but that doesn’t really happen.
        (theoretically)

        It’s just like I threw random words together, except I didn’t, I used words to produce a meaning, and commas and parentheses to have that meaning unfold in a particular (though granted, arbitrary [as all decisions ultimately are]) way, to make a point that I was making, for no reason.

  3. Pastabagel says:

    Okay, I’m going to make a prediction:

    The birther argument will shift from “He wasn’t born in the United States and therefore isn’t a natural born citizen” to “The meaning of ‘natural born citizen’ is that both parents must be U.S. citizens, therefore Obama is not a ‘natural born citizen’ as that phrase is used in the Constitution.”

    • JohnJ says:

      People move the goalposts when confronted with facts that challenge their beliefs? Don’t go out on a limb with your predictions or anything.

      • philtrum says:

        Sort of like neo-Confederates, eh, “Johnny Reb”?

        • JohnJ says:

          Are you implying that being illogical is something that only certain kinds of people do? Good luck demonstrating that.

          • philtrum says:

            No, I’m implying that being a neo-Confederate is inherently distasteful.

          • philtrum says:

            Although neo-Confederates, like birthers, do excel at goalpost-moving. From “slavery is good” to “at least we give our slaves the gift of Christianity” to “it was never about slavery” to “we must defend white womanhood” to “they should be grateful they’re not in Africa” to “it’s about heritage, not hate, so get over the whole slavery thing”…

            All human beings are irrational, but some human beings are more irrational than others.

          • JohnJ says:

            “All human beings are irrational, but some human beings are more irrational than others.”

            I totally agree with you there. Attributing to others positions that they never really held especially makes them look irrational.

          • philtrum says:

            Why then would you call yourself “a Johnny Reb in a Yankee world”, thereby deliberately identifying yourself with the Confederacy?

          • JohnJ says:

            Clearly, you believe that truth is only valid from certain kinds of people. I disagree. Since we disagree about the source of truth, I suppose further discussion is pointless. Don’t you agree?

          • philtrum says:

            I do believe you’re right. Enjoy waiting for the South to rise again.

    • ThomasR says:

      I have a slightly different prediction. I think that some people (the relatively rational birthers), will say, “we should change the definition of ‘natural born citizen’ so that this travesty doesn’t happen again.” I don’t think that they will try to retroactively disqualify Obama.

      And a second group (apparently including Fox News), will claim that the document is a forgery. To be fair, if I were President and I had faked US citizenship, I would definitely call the CIA and tell them to make me a birth certificate.

      NOTE: to forestall misunderstandings, I am not saying that I think that Obama faked US citizenship, I fully believe that Obama was born in Hawaii, I am merely saying that if a US President ever did do such a thing, the CIA could probably “fix” things.

  4. Guy Fox says:

    In most news coverage, it is never, “This is the fact.” It is always “So-and-so says this is the fact,” followed by an challenge from “the other side” (because there are only ever two alternatives) about so-and-so’s motives, the interests they represent, etc.

    Just to bring this into perspective, libel laws in foreign jurisdictions have a nasty habit of biting even domestic media in the a$$ (and it doesn’t matter here who’s foreign and domestic relative to you). E.g. http://www.economist.com/node/12903058?story_id=E1_TNJDPDVR
    This makes it prudent, if not necessary, for media to hedge their statements about what may or may not be the case. This is why you’ll see constructions like “alleged embezzler” or “murder suspect” even after the person in question has confessed of his own volition. Saying “Mr. X did/is so-and-so” is potentially libelous as a statement of fact, but saying “Expert/Authority/Ms. Y said that Mr. X did so-and-so” offers opportunistic litigators much less traction because it outsources the expression of the ‘fact’. The MSM might just be scared in many cases rather than sinister. This is still a problem, but it would be a different problem.

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