Over in the United States there are a number of conservatives of the tin foil hat wearing variety who believe that Barack Obama is not an American citizen and therefore declare his presidency to be illegitimate.
The ‘birthers’ (as they have become known) insist that Obama does not have a proper US birth certificate and that he is instead a citizen of Kenya. The loopiest of the loopiest think that this is all part of a massive conspiracy concocted by dirty foreigners who want to bring down the United States from the inside.
It’s all very silly and very mad. There is an unpleasant racial element to the whole thing as well, of course, with many birthers expressing nativist sentiments and incredulity that a black man could become President of the US without cheating.
Watch Jon Stewart’s take on the birthers – and those in the media and mainstream politics who are irresponsibly encouraging them – here.
Is Tory blogger Donal Blaney a paid-up member of the birther movement? He claims not to be, but still delights in repeating the allegations made against Obama by the lunatic fringes of the American right.
Blaney constantly refers to Obama as America’s “first Kenyan-American president“. He seems to doubt the authenticity of the official account of Obama’s life. For some reason, he also has a weird fixation with Barack Hussein Obama’s middle-name.
Anyway, efforts by reactionary cranks to undermine a democratically elected politician through spreading not-very-wild allegations about the circumstances of their birth are not new.
During the First World War MacDonald, then Labour MP for Leicester, became notorious for his steadfast opposition to the conflict and his attempts to negotiate an end to the fighting through the Socialist International. At a time when even the majority of the Labour movement got caught up in pro-war jingoism, MacDonald was one of the few voices questioning the value of sending hundreds of thousands of men to slaughter each other in the trenches.
Unsurprisingly, MacDonald’s anti-war stand incurred the wrath of the populist right-wing press. The journal John Bull wrote:
“We call him traitor, coward, cur. We demand his trial by Court Martial, his condemnation as an aider and abetter of the King’s enemies, and that he be taken to the Tower and shot at dawn.”
Lovely stuff. Best of British. The culmination of John Bull‘s campaign against MacDonald in 1915 was the revelation that – *shock horror* – the name MacDonald went under was slightly different to that recorded on his birth certificate and that his parents were not married:
“For months past – ever since the man who calls himself James Ramsay MacDonald, but whose real name is James McDonald Ramsay, has stood aloof from the almost unanimous response of the nation to the call of the King – we have persistently labelled him as a traitor and a coward; and we have called upon Leicester to rid itself of the stigma of having such a ‘representative’ in Parliament…
…we have remained silent with regard to certain facts which have been in our possession for a long time. First of all, we knew that this man was living under an adopted name – and that he was registerd as James McDonald Ramsay – and that, therefore, he had obtained admission to the House of Commons in false colours, and was probably liable to heavy penalties to have his election declared void.
But to have disclosed this state of things would have imposed upon us a very painful and unsavoury duty. We should have been compelled to produce the man’s birth certificate. And that would have revealed what today we are judtified in revealing…It would have revealed that ‘James Ramsay MacDonald’, MP for Leicester, late ‘leader’ of the Labour Party, late member of a Royal Commission, under the seal of His Majesty, the leading light of the Union of Democratic Control – libeller and slanderer of his country – it would have revealed him as the illegitimate son of a Scotch servant girl!“
The journal then printed out a copy of MacDonald’s birth certificate. It was apparently news to him that he had originally been named ‘James McDonald Ramsay’ and he was genuinely shocked by the revelation.
MacDonald’s political career collapsed in the period immediately following the First World War. It seems highly unlikely that the ‘birther’ allegations he faced were as significant in explaining his temporary lack of electoral appeal as the accusations of treachery and allegiance with the Kaiser, but they certainly didn’t help his situation.
I hope Obama has more success in defending himself from today’s swivel-eyed, birth certificate-waving loons!