A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama’s Citizenship and the Survival of the Fittest


Yesterday we posted something about the evolution of rumors. Here’s a postscript: Sometimes in addition to developing new eyespots or camouflage, they actually engage in a little adaptive development — rumors that aren’t working mutate into slightly altered versions that haven’t been debunked yet.

A case in point: First there was the canard that Obama didn’t have a valid U.S. birth certificate. We were able to help put that one to bed. (Never mind the additional rumor it spawned due to the erroneous date stamp on our photos of the document, which was due to a staff writer not setting the date on her personal camera. Yes, her VCR also blinks 12:00.)

Since Obama was clearly a natural-born citizen, the rumor had to adapt. The next incarnation had Obama holding Kenyan as well as U.S. citizenship. If that didn’t make him ineligible to be president, it at least portrayed him as somewhat…foreign, which could be offputting to some voters. We nipped that one in the bud, too.

The newest falsehood goes like this: Obama was legally adopted by his stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, and thus lost his American citizenship in favor of Indonesian citizenship. Sorry, that’s bogus, too. Because Obama was born in the U.S., he could not lose his citizenship as a child. It could be revoked only if he became a citizen of another country as an adult, and if that country didn’t permit dual citizenship. A glance at the relevant statute shows that all the conditions for loss of nationality are reserved for people over 18 — except for treason, fighting for a hostile army and formal renunciation of citizenship, all of which Obama was a bit young for at age 6. In two of those cases, his citizenship still would have been safe as long as he affirmed it when he turned 18. (Loss of citizenship for treason has no exemptions.)

We’ve even seen a rather jaw-dropping variant that holds that Obama can’t be a citizen because he was born to a teenage mother. Don’t fall for this one, either. Its rationale involves a lot of hand-waving and some twisting of a law that doesn’t apply to people born in the United States (section G here). It’s just another example of a rumor scrambling for a foothold.