Thomas C. Reeves posts a challenge to historians to clear up Obama records questions raised by conservatives

Historians in the News

[Prof. Reeves writes from Wisconsin. Among his dozen books are Twentieth Century America: A Brief History, and biographies of John F. Kennedy, Joseph R. McCarthy, Fulton Sheen, and Chester A. Arthur. Marquette University Press published his biography of Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr. in 2006.]

In the early 1880s a Democratic Party lawyer wrote a book attempting to prove that President Chester A. Arthur had been born in Canada and was thus constitutionally barred from being the Chief Executive. He did quite a bit of research. The trouble was that his allegation was untrue. Today, as you know, a similar attempt is being made by elements of the Right, charging that President Obama was not born in Hawaii, as he claims, and is in fact holding his office illegally.

There is enough material here for a small monograph, I think. Certainly some historian should investigate the sources carefully and issue a report on the History News Network.

For example, the AP release of April 1 on the Occidental College transcript. Was this an April Fool joke? It certainly doesn't seem to be. And what about the transcript itself: Has anyone contacted Occidental officials? Was Obama in fact going to college under an assumed name? That's no small matter. And aren't there witnesses who can verify the charge that Obama was born in Kenya? And what about the certificate of birth on the Obama website? Is it really a fake? The courts have dealt with this matter: What have the judges concluded, and why?

Who are the major partisans behind the current charge? Dismissing them as kooks contributes nothing to the controversy. My chief source on the Right side of the issue has enjoyed a most impressive academic career.

Why not assign some young historian or graduate student the task of looking into the matter? He or she could start by picking up the phone to check out the AP story. The Associated Press has been highly in favor of Obama for the last couple of years. Why would they print an inflammatory story in April, 2009? And why has there been no significant response from leaders of the Right? My professor friend says that people are afraid of being labeled"racist." Really?

I solved the Arthur allegation many years ago. Someone else needs to examine the Obama controversy. Here is an opportunity for the profession to show its ability to conduct research objectively and carefully. (All too often journalists dismiss us as partisan hacks.)

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Lenora Oldham - 6/3/2009

How hard is it to find out for sure where Obama's mother was on the day he was born? Was she in Hawaii or Kenya? I know we didn't live in the same electronic world in the early 60s but there must be some concrete evidence of her whereabouts then unless that has all been destroyed or sealed.