I'm No Birther, But...

After conservative news site Breitbart brought the issue into the open yesterday, other websites have been reporting on a write-up by President Obama's literary agent stating that he was born in Kenya. From the Breitbart article:

Breitbart News has obtained a promotional booklet produced in 1991 by Barack Obama's then-literary agency, Acton & Dystel, which touts Obama as "born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii." The booklet, which was distributed to "business colleagues" in the publishing industry, includes a brief biography of Obama among the biographies of eighty-nine other authors represented by Acton & Dystel. It also promotes Obama's anticipated first book, Journeys in Black and White--which Obama abandoned, later publishing Dreams from My Father instead.

Obama’s biography in the booklet is as follows:

Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii. The son of an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister, he attended Columbia University and worked as a financial journalist and editor for Business International Corporation. He served as project coordinator in Harlem for the New York Public Interest Research Group, and was Executive Director of the Developing Communities Project in Chicago’s South Side. His commitment to social and racial issues will be evident in his first book, Journeys in Black and White.

The folks at Breitbart go on to note that the deceased Andrew Breitbart, "...was never a "Birther," and Breitbart News is a site that has never advocated the narrative of "Birtherism." In fact, Andrew believed, as we do, that President Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961. Yet Andrew also believed that the complicit mainstream media had refused to examine President Obama's ideological past, or the carefully crafted persona he and his advisers had constructed for him."

Joel B. Pollak, the writer of the article, continues to say, "The errant Obama biography in the Acton & Dystel booklet does not contradict the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate. Moreover, several contemporaneous accounts of Obama’s background describe Obama as having been born in Hawaii. The biography does, however, fit a pattern in which Obama--or the people representing and supporting him--manipulate his public persona."

If, as Pollak notes, this is not a contradiction of birth, but rather 'just' evidence of misrepresentation, there are still some fairly serious credibility issues in play. For example, I would think that Obama read that booklet at some point. Additionally, some reports have noted that the book agent's website continued to list his birthplace as Kenya until 2007.

It is difficult to believe that Mr. Obama didn't vet the write-up in the booklet before it was released. However, assuming arguendo that he didn't, it is conceivable that it would have been too difficult to change the booklet once it was in circulation to bother with the effort. Maybe it was merely an oversight followed by cost considerations. However, it seems odd that his agent would believe Obama was born in Kenya in the first place unless it had been discussed at some point; I think the default would probably be to assume US citizens were born in the U.S.

In addition, even if a booklet which was already in circulation was too difficult to change, a website certainly wouldn't be. I would find it to be absolutely absurd for someone as image conscious as a published author, never mind a senator, never mind just about anyone contemplating a serious run at the presidency, to not be aware of his literary agency bio. Therefore, if nothing else, it would seem likely that Mr. Obama is guilty of allowing a misrepresentation of his birthplace, i.e. his personal history. This is exactly what people have been up in arms about over Elizabeth Warren recently, and she only hopes to be a senator. 

In addition to suggesting credibility issues, the continued back and forth over documents from Obama's past certainly muddies the waters ahead of the upcoming election. I suppose that anyone who considers themselves to be birthers wouldn't have voted Obama anyway; maybe adding fuel to their fire is inconsequential. However, issues like this nonetheless seem to continue to arise. If nothing else, that distracts from the real issues that Obama and Mitt Romney should be debating.

I don't believe that America's president is a foreigner or illegal or unconstitutional. However, I do believe that he has some honesty and credibility issues. While it would be easy to say that anyone who rises to power has probably skipped a few i's and t's along the way, I personally think that people should be held to account for their actions, particularly those in public service. I don't really see this as a legal issue, so maybe in this case, Obama's penance will include a few weeks of squirming a bit uncomfortably during Q&As with the press or after a zinger from Mr. Romney on a debate night. In any case, I believe that this is an issue which should be discussed and which Americans should be allowed to question without being labelled birthers or anti-Obama. In my opinion, it should come with the territory.

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