Obama "Birthers" Could be Right for the Wrong Reasons


Ko Olina Beach (author's photograph)

Could Donald Trump and the Obama "birther" conspiracists be right? Some claim that President Obama is not an American because he was born outside of the U.S. Some begrudgingly acknowledge that he was born in Hawaii less than two years after becoming our 50th state but still characterize the President as somehow distinct from "real" Americans. Having just returned from my first visit to the President's jewel of a birthplace (or is it?), I see how the state of Hawaii - putting aside Kenya - could be viewed by some Americans as foreign for a host of reasons. Hawaii is more than 2,500 miles from the mainland, has two official languages - Hawaiian and English - mandated by their constitution, multiracial families are common and voters are trusted by their precinct officials. If you have no identification, their officials only ask you to recite date of birth and address.

Hawaiian culture is deeply rooted in nature, and rightly so. Stunning rainforests and bamboo forests are but a short drive from Punahou School where President Obama studied as a young man, remembered by locals unremarkably as Barry, a "Grandma's boy;" he lived nearby in an apartment with his grandmother. Standing amongst the vast bamboo forest nearby, you feel like an ant crawling along grass in a well groomed lawn. So Hawaiians seem to have a different perspective and attitude compared to Americans on the mainland. Each and every local I met was helpful, welcoming, tolerant of a transplanted New Jerseyan such as me; nary one was impatient, rude or pushy. Yes, tourism is their primary economic driver, so this obvious tourist could be misconstruing Hawaiian realities outside of the resorts, as locals face traffic, falling housing prices and foreclosures. Stress management here is easily accessible, though, with soaring volcanoes and the siren call of calm bays and Pacific waves.

Nevertheless, life on isolated islands imbued with majestic natural beauty and bounty is bound to affect one's perspective towards your community, the planet. You can accomplish much in a "New York minute;" but locals here follow "Hawaiian time" - self mockingly referring to their aversion to rushing of any kind. Imagine a taxi driver stuck in downtown Waikiki traffic, trundling along chatting with his passengers about where you can get the best tacos and local produce, seemingly not a care in the world (while I checked my watch.) Taking the driver's advice, we tasted ripe mangoes that evoked sensual pleasures bordering on the illegal.

Obama "birther" conspiracists portray the President as the "other," a foreigner, someone who cannot understand "real" Americans, out of meanness, political strategy or stupidity. Are not the "birthers" missing a fundamental truth that what defines Americans is not what some believe is "real" American (whatever that means) but our diversity, rallied around freedom? They could be right about Hawaiians, including President Obama, as foreigners in the sense I've described, but only for these very wrong reasons.

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Politics aside, I think that you miss the point of the birthers. They are not saying that Obama is not an American or cannot relate to them because he was not born in Hawaii (I'm not saying that this was the case) or has one parent who was not an American citizen. They are saying that the Constitution has certain requirements for a President. One is that he (or she) be a "natural born citizen"of the USA. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that he does not meet this fundemental qualification. It is a rule of law and Constitutional issue, not one of fear or hatred of forieners or those who are "different".

However, I'm not taking exception to all of your article. I've been fortunate enough to have been to Hawaii a few times and would have to totally agree with your assesment of it. Hawaii is a world unto itself and a wonderful, inviting place filled with warm people. Aloha Hawaii!

Pateriot, iIf that is their point, and it's been refuted so many times, then why do they stick with it?


You have interpreted the Birthers as being far too rational. Sometimes, people are crazy and stupid, and they really are motivated by lunatic theories instead of constitutional law. The Birthers have proven time and again that most of their spiel is motivated by bad, irrational arguments centered around Obama's supposed foreign-ness, and not a nuanced interpretation of the constitutional requirements of the presidency.

Sometimes, when we interpret the behaviour of other people, we err on the side of interpreting it as rational by our own standards. Birtherism isn't rational by my standard, and it seems not to be by yours. So really, there's no point in defending it.