Born in the USA

The White House today released Barack Obama's full birth certificate. But will it persuade the "birt

So did Donald Trump win? Or will President Obama manage to draw a line beneath the controversy about his citizenship, once and for all? The White House has just released a copy of Obama's full birth certificate, showing, of course, that he was born in Hawaii and is eligible to be President of the United States.

Minutes later, Obama appeared at the White House podium, declaring the country just didn't have time for such "silliness" - and it was all becoming a distraction from real issues like the economy.

The issue suddenly hit the headlines again after a poll showed that two-thirds of Republican voters believe that Obama was born outside the United States, or say they aren't sure. The fact that it re-emerged at this precise moment was largely due to Donald Trump - who may or may not be considering a presidential bid. He's repeatedly been quoted on the record, asking for that full birth certificate to be revealed.

The GOP's party's Presidential hopefuls have already been forced to distance themselves from the false claims by so-called "birthers" - who have been obsessed with challenging the President to produce his full birth certificate and prove where he was born.

There is nothing secret about the document: the official certification released by the authorities in Hawaii shows that Barack Obama was born in the state in 1961 - a fact recorded by local newspapers at the time.

So among the 2012 contenders - Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have completely rejected the "birther" idea - while Tim Pawlenty said "I'm not one to question the authenticity of Barack Obama's birth certificate".

But not every Republican leader was so unequivocal. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, says that although he does believe Obama is a US citizen - it's not up to him to tell the American people what to think. Huh? Tea Party supporter Michelle Bachman actually had to be shown a copy of the Hawaii certificate by ABC's George Stephanopolous before she admitted she would "take the president at his word".

Yet tune into a right wing talk show and the claims persist - along with other accusations about Obama being a Muslim, educated at a Madrassa and so on. The Hawaii document, originally posted on the Democrats' website during the 2008 campaign - has been dismissed as fake - even though the independent Factcheck.org website confirmed it is authentic. And a new book on the controversy - Jerome Corsis's Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President has already rocketed to the top spot on Amazon weeks before its publication date.

Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, has just vetoed one of the many so-called birther bills which are progressing in several states. Louisiana and Indiana are still debating the measures, which would require any presidential candidate to provide proof of their American citizenship in order to be included on that state's ballot.

It has already proved remarkably fruitful for Democrats, who have siezed on the Donald Trump pronouncements to raise funds from their outraged supporters. But isn't it truly astonishing in this day and age that the citizenship of the President of the United States is an issue at all - let alone one that seems to have gained almost mainstream currency? As White House spokesman Robert Gibbs put it, two years ago: "You couldn't sell this script in Hollywood".

Moments after the brith certificate was published today, Trump emerged in New hampshire, taking full credit for the disclosure - and insisting he's proud of himself. "I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish", he said, barely able to restrain his glee. But will this really draw a line under the whole affair, as the White House hopes - and consign the doubters to the furthest conspiracy-theory extremes? In his statement today, Obama urged the media to ignore the "sideshows and carnival barkers": with wars in Afghanistan and Libya, oil prices soaring and a huge debate over the deficit, he wants to show the American people that he's the one in charge - and the one taking the country's problems seriously.

Felicity Spector is a deputy programme editor for Channel 4 News.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
Show Hide image

Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left