HONOLULU – Frustrated by what he sees as a never-ending campaign to undermine President Barack Obama, Hawaii’s new governor says he plans to use his new post to counter conspiracy theorists who continue to allege that the president was not born in the United States.
Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who took office Dec. 6, has known Obama since the president’s days growing up in Hawaii. He’s also one of the few people who knew both Obama’s father, also named Barack, and mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.
That long-standing relationship is a major reason Abercrombie, 72, takes umbrage with the persistent effort by Obama’s most ardent foes to assert that he was born in Kenya, which would constitutionally bar him from holding the office of president.
“Now that I’m governor, I’m going to do something about that,” Abercrombie vowed during an interview in his fifth-floor office in the state capitol. Abercrombie, who spent 19 years representing Hawaii’s 1st District as one of the more liberal members of Congress, acknowledged he has not yet determined a specific remedy.
“What bothers me is that some people who should know better are trying to use this for political reasons,” he said. “Maybe I’m the only one in the country that could look you right in the eye right now and tell you, ‘I was here when that baby was born.’ ”
One of Abercrombie’s aides said the governor is voicing the frustration of many Hawaiians who continue to be troubled by the rumors, which they see as emblematic of the view that Hawaiians are not Americans in the same way as those who live in the continental United States.
Abercrombie’s Hawaiian pride may be trumping practical politics. Ample evidence has been produced to discredit the “birther” movement, so in the view of the White House, the governor’s comments are reviving an issue that most people see as resolved.
While his goal may be to support Obama, experts who study political extremism say the actual impact of additional evidence is to perpetuate the conspiracy. They say people who embrace such conspiracies are guided by suspicion, and therefore view any contrary evidence as part of the conspiracy.
Abercrombie, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., came to Hawaii in 1959 to study sociology at the University of Hawaii. As a teaching assistant, he met and befriended Obama’s father, a native of Kenya.
Obama’s mother was born in Kansas and met and married his father when the two were college students in Hawaii. Obama was born at Kapi’olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961.
But in 2008, as Obama ran for president, allegations appeared online claiming, without proof, that he was born in Kenya.
That June, the Obama campaign released a Certificate of Live Birth – an official document from the state of Hawaii Health Department certifying the facts of a person’s birth – as proof of his birthplace. Investigations by two prominent fact-checking organizations, Politifact and Factcheck.org, concluded that the certificate was authentic. Factcheck also turned up a 1961 birth announcement in a local newspaper, the Honolulu Advertiser, marking the birth of a son to “Mr. and Mrs. Barack H. Obama of Kalanianaole Hwy.”
But the Hawaii birth document, dated 2007 and generated at the request of the Obama campaign, was insufficient for some of Obama’s detractors. They demand the release of his original birth certificate, which in Hawaii is not a public record. Several lawsuits have been filed seeking to force Obama to disclose more information, but they have been routinely dismissed by courts.
Bills have been introduced in state legislatures that would require candidates for the presidency to document that they were born in the country. One passed the Arizona House in April. Similar legislation was introduced in Congress in 2009 and failed to gain traction, but the attempt troubled Abercrombie.
“More than demonization – this is self-evisceration of politics,” said Abercrombie, who raised the birthplace issue unprompted during the interview. “Empires fall and countries fall when that takes the place of discourse.”