An otherwise casual question has turned out to be one of the most elusive and divisive questions of the young 21st century: where was Barack Obama born? The left despises those who ask the question. Some on the right ridicule those who raise the issue, while a sizeable number of Americans are insisting that Obama was born outside of the US and hence he is ineligible to be president.
Update: See Obama releases his long form birth certificate
Whether intentionally or not, they are either missing or distorting the real issue. An inquiry to Obama's birthplace should be viewed in light of the sheer weight of the position he holds: a national and world leader. If the job involved were a county-level clerk position, questions about Obama's personal history would indeed be less relevant and a distraction. Instead, what is at stake here is the America's future. Voting for someone to be US President is akin to mortgaging the nation's future to that individual. As such, knowledge of the background of the person is essential. Even taking out a low dollar mortgage loan requires a diligent, proper, and thorough review of the applicant's historical financial information. As the recent years have shown, when basic principles of prudent lending were abandoned, financial crisis ensued. Is this an foreshadowing of Obama's presidency?
Which brings us to the real issue in the saga of Obama's birthplace mystery: character and trust. Obama's principles and paradigms of thinking, which guide his leadership and policy making, are not independent from his character. This is because character, which can be understood as the moral qualities unique to an individual, defines who a person really is and reveals his moral purpose, exposing the kind of actions and policies he chooses and avoids. Put simply, a good character flows from good moral principles, and good leadership proceeds from good character. No wonder Abraham Lincoln said, "Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."
Since a person's character becomes the foundation of his intentions and actions, it is safe to assume that a person's observable behavior is an indication of his true character. Thus, clarity and commitment to honesty are essential to a good character. It is for this reason that Obama's obfuscation of his background and other personal history induces many Americans to think that Obama has a deeply questionable character and is unfit to be the leader of the nation.
That's why some conservative politicians and pundits who are separating Obama's character from his principles and policy making are missing the point. Great personal character is the hallmark of great leaders such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. Strangely, the biggest supporter of character as an indispensable part of American president comes from the least expected source: Hollywood. In a movie The American President, Andrew Shepherd (portrayed by Michael Douglas), an immensely popular Democratic president from the state of Wisconsin, said, "I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character." Bingo!
If character is central to leadership, trust is the highest part of leadership. When the American people vote for their President, they are trusting that his leadership will serve the nation's best interest. But as Zig Ziglar wrote, "...only men of character are trusted." But to be trustworthy and be capable of building genuine trust, one needs first to build a good character.
So far, Obama wants us to trust his own version of his life stories, with no regard to inconvenient facts (or common sense). To pick one example: when he said that he never heard his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, spew anti-American sermons from the pulpit, despite his sitting in the pew almost weekly for more than 15 years, it was an indication that Obama has a dubious character and cannot be trusted. Viewed this way, Obama's lack of forthrightness is not limited to the question of his birthplace, but extends to various small and large matters that he is zealously trying to hide and obfuscate.
In fact, the real question should not be about his birthplace, but why is he protecting the release of his long-form birth certificate. Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the former director of Hawaii's Department of Health, said twice that she has personally seen and reviewed Obama's original birth certificate. The question is, why is Obama not requesting the release of its copy and put the issue to rest? Thanks to Donald Trump who has shown the way to do it, the release of the information can be done in a matter of hours. What is needed is a genuine effort to do so.
Put aside Obama's stubborn refusal to also release his academic records and information on how he financed his education at Columbia and Harvard. The liberals and conservatives who ridicule the birthers may take advice from a man most of them admire, Theodore Roosevelt, who said, "Americanism is a question of principle, of purpose, of idealism, of character. It is not a matter of birthplace or creed or line of descent."
But, how do you tell a man's character when he is not even willing to reveal his birthplace and academic records?