Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Department of Records

Like all good Americans, I spent my day thinking about Barack Obama's birth certificate. For those of you who would like to play along at home, the rules of the game are as follows: Some say that Obama's birth certificate from Hawaii, officially known as a "Certification of Live Birth," is a fake, because they just know that Obama was born outside the country. Hence, he is not a "natural-born citizen," and is ineligible to serve as President. This is especially vexatious to Republicans who, like Macbeth, fear no natural-born man. The apparent discovery that Obama was from his mother's womb untimely ripped in Kenya understandably fills them with political dread.

Members of the US House of Representatives and several state legislatures nevertheless are taking action, and demanding laws requiring future presidential candidates to submit their real birth certificates (no fakes allowed) before their names can be put on the ballot. A lot of people are taking offense at this idea, although it strikes me as perfectly harmless. Indeed, the fact that such a law isn't already on the books is a little surprising.

We always hear that bureaucracy is the glue that holds the government together. Every form at the DMV has a little box for your middle initial, it's impossible to replace your Social Security Card without a birth certificate, and don't even think about trying to use your handgun license as a form of primary ID. And if we weren't required to sign on the dotted line, swearing that the above information is true, what would become of the public sector?

And yet at the highest level, they seem to go without paperwork altogether. When I heard about the bill under consideration to compel Obama to submit his birth certificate for cursory analysis by the Missouri state legislature in 2012, I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking, "Man -- Presidents have it easy."

I'm supposed to believe that at no point during his historic campaign did Obama have to paperclip a photocopy of his birth certificate to a ballot access application. He didn't have to bring a piece of mail addressed to him in Chicago to verify his current address. And if he has any felony convictions in his past, I'm sure he didn't have to admit it to a sheet of paper.

I can't help but wonder whether the upper tiers of government all share this disdain for the paperwork that nourishes them. When the House and Senate pass a bill, do they have to ink up the "PASSED" stamp to make it official? Or do they just expect the American people to take their word for it? When the president signs legislation, does he really need to sign it at all? Does he need to sign white, pink and canary copies, and initial each page? If his signature doesn't match the ones on his canceled checks, are we, the American People, allowed to call him and note that, "there's been some unusual activity in your branch of government, and would you verify that you approved these recent bills?"

A wise man once said that when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal. I can only assume that the same spirit that animated Richard Nixon informs elected officials' approach to paperwork. If Congress says they've passed a bill, or if Obama and his family say he was born in America, what pencil-pusher is going to call such important people on such petty details?

Now we know. That's why I think it's helpful to look at the "birthers," as they are known, as the political wing of the bureaucracy. This obsession with proper documents and formalities has manifested before, in the "tax protestors" who deny that the Sixteenth Amendment was ever ratified. We are told, for instance that "a number of states returned uncertified, unsigned, and/or unsealed copies [of the amendment], and did not rectify their negligence even after being reminded and warned by [Secretary of State] Knox."

"With carelessness like that," I can hear the birthers fume, "you'd be lucky to get a fishing license."


Blogger pjkobulnicky said...

I'm always amused when one's passport is rejected as proper ID when what they really want are the documents that are required to even apply for the damned passport. That's why in the deep dark recesses of my almost falling-apart wallet, is my legal birth certificate.

3:51 PM  

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