‘Birthers’ and the Requirement of Documentation


2009-07-24-obamabirthcertificate-thumb One of the great disappointments of my time in the US this summer was the silliness and extremism of the Republican reaction to Obama’s defeat. Instead of playing a constructive role as an opposition party, it is descending into lunacy – G Beck called Obama a racist; health means enforced abortion; Palin declared Obamacare ‘downright evil.’ This is bad for the GOP and, in the medium-term, for the country also.

Instead of taking its big defeats in 2006 and 08 as cause for a major rethink, the party and the conservative movement seem to have concluded that further movement to the right is the answer. This is also bad for the country, in that the medium-term implosion of the opposition party in a two-party system removes a critical check & balance from the system. Perhaps the most idiotic, self-destructive reaction is the birther movement. A plurality of Republicans believe Obama is not a citizen.

About the only thing I can think of to defend the birther position is that proper documentation is a broad problem in the US. There is no national ID card. SS cards do not come with a picture on it. State driver’s licenses implicitly function as our nationwide ID, but they differ widely across the 50 states, SS numbers can be removed, religiously devout are sometimes permitted to cover their faces, and many people simply do not have one. Finally, of course, document fraud is growing problem, because 20 million illegal immigrants live in the US creating massive demand for a black market in faked paperwork.

My sense is that improving US systems of ID is the meaningful take away from the birther controversy; the rest is bizarro conspiracy theory flim-flam. So, yes, Obama should have a birth certificate to prove he is a US citizen, but so should every other candidate for political office in the US. Indeed, it seems to me quite natural that anyone declaring candidacy for an office in the US should be required to show proper ID. I certainly hope that is required! I am always amazed that when I voted in the US, that I was not required to show any form of ID; I would always bring my driver’s license just in case.

That is probably the real lesson from the birther flap. It is born of the confusion over proper ID in the US and the huge presence of illegals in country. Yes, it channels the long history of rightist paranoia in US history. But it also says that the US should probably have a national ID card as most countries do. That card would be required for most public functions – voting, candidacy, driving, court appearances, etc.

Finally, in a rich irony, it is the right that has long blocked a national ID scheme. Exactly the kinds of righties who make up the birthers – radical libertarians, militia types, NRA members – are also the most vehement opponents of a national ID card, because it is seen as a step toward tyranny and government tracking of weapons ownership. So you can’t say Obama lacks his paperwork, when you think too much paperwork is the beginning of world government.

Korean ID addendum: Korea goes too far the other way with an ID card. When you buy stuff on the internet from Korean analogues to Amazon, you need to punch in your national ID. So if you order a book or movie from the internet, it is tagged to your national ID number with an e-vendor. Kinda creepy…

4 thoughts on “‘Birthers’ and the Requirement of Documentation

  1. I agree with all of this. I think the right has a legitimate concern about diminishing privacy in an era of irrefutable (meaning, probably, biometric) national identification schemes, but we can’t have it both ways. I think the end result will be an increasing dependence on them for all forms of commerce, as happens now in South Korea. I think that’s almost inevitable. The era of genuine privacy is just about over I think.

  2. Dr. Bob:

    This is your blog and you can do whatever you like with it but do you realise that you are breaking NO new ground with your blog? For someone with your level of education, combined with your travel experiences overwhelmingly, all that you do is regurgitate nonsense from mainstream US media.

  3. Pingback: AZ’s Immigration Law is Only ‘Harsh’ if You’ve Never Lived Abroad « Asian Security & US Foreign Relations Blog

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