Sarah Palin Embraces Certificateism: A Kinder, Gentler Birtherism

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Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Long before Donald Trump brought birtherism back into the spotlight again, Republican politicians grappled, if not outright struggled, with how to position themselves on the issue without alienating either the mainstream media (who, for the most part, treat birthers like cranks) or Republican voters (half of whom believe Obama was born abroad). When asked what they think about the conspiracy theory, many will try to thread the needle between these two constituencies. You'll hear them say they "take Obama at his word" or that "this isn't something we should be focusing on" — not backing birtherism, but also not explicitly dismissing it. The problem: It escapes no one that these kinds of responses are dodges.

But there's a different middle-ground position that doesn't require obvious evasive maneuvers — one that we've noticed both Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin occupying in the past few days.

Here's what Buchanan said last Thursday, in an on-air debate with Trump.

Buchanan: The Honolulu Advertiser — I guess it was just about a week later, it put in the previous week's births, and it's got Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. right in there.

Trump: Right, absolutely. And you know who did that, Pat? It was the grandparents ... You just said the key words: It was one week later. So he could've been born in Kenya, they come over to the United States, the grandparents — they put the ads in — and I'm telling you: There is a major chance that this guy has violated the United States Constitution.

Buchanan: Donald, you'd have to bring the kid out of Kenya and bring him back to the United States. You got documents for all that, do you not? I mean, the mother would have to travel within a short period of time; there'd be records of all that.

Trump: Pat, there are. You know what I ask myself? Why has Obama spent over $2 million on trying to get away from this issue? Why?

Buchanan: I think something's on the birth certificate.

Buchanan is dubious that Obama was born abroad, but he also suspects that he's hiding something else on his birth certificate. Sarah Palin espoused a similar theory over the weekend in an interview with Fox News:

"I think that he was born in Hawaii because there was the birth announcement put in the newspaper," Palin said. "But obviously there is something there that the president doesn't want people to see on that birth certificate, that he sees going to great lengths to make sure it isn't shown. And that's perplexing for a lot of people."

Obviously. So what damaging information would be on the certificate if not a revelation about Obama's birthplace? Perhaps, as Trump suggests, it could say he's a Muslim. Or maybe it shows that Obama's real father is Malcolm X, or an alien. We don't know.

Palin doesn't have to speculate on exactly what kind of secret info is on the birth certificate. But by simultaneously suggesting that something is on there that Obama wants to keep hidden and admitting that he was probably born in America, she avoids the taint of birtherism while still playing to birthers' doubts about Obama's allegedly shadowy past. It's a compromise position that we wouldn't be surprised to see a few Republican presidential candidates embrace during the primaries. Birtherism without the birth! Technically, that would just be "erism," but that clearly doesn't work. Really, it's certificateism, which, admittedly, does not roll off the tongue.

The only problem with the argument is that it's predicated on a set of facts — Obama has released his short-form birth certificate but refuses to release his (apparently damning) original long-form birth certificate — that are untrue. An NBC News story released just today explains why:

[Joshua] Wisch, the spokesman for the [Hawaii] attorney general's office, said state law does not in fact permit the release of "vital records," including an original "record of live birth" — even to the individual whose birth it records.

"It's a Department of Health record and it can't be released to anybody," he said. Nor do state laws have any provision that authorizes such records to be photocopied, Wisch said. If Obama wanted to personally visit the state health department, he would be permitted to inspect his birth record, Wisch said.

But if he or anybody else wanted a copy of their birth records, they would be told to fill out the appropriate state form and receive back the same computer generated "certification of live birth" form that everybody else gets — which is exactly what Obama did four years ago.

The truth is kind of beside the point, however.