My in-laws shook their heads and said that they indeed believe that President Obama is not really a natural born citizen.
The whole afternoon, I had tried to reason with a group of people whose political background contrasted sharply with mine. The conversation had gone well, even with their statements that they supported the “Tea Party” movement, that they disagreed with Obama on many issues and their point of view that taxes were too high.
During this part of the conversation, we were able to carry on OK because we discussed topics of concern to all, or at least a great majority of citizens. I would welcome a dialogue about taxation, entitlements, foreign policy or just about anything else as long as it is based on reason and relevance.
But then we got stuck. What was with their idea that Obama is not constitutionally qualified to serve as president?
They said he signed some form back in college that allowed him to get money as a non-citizen. Even though it would be interesting to see a copy of this form, I told them that it was not relevant to the discussion. (See footnotes below for a full analysis of Obama’s natural born citizenship.)
I pointed out he was born in Hawaii, which made him a natural born citizen. They sneered and said he was born in Kenya.
So I used one of my critical thinking tools: the “Summary Judgment Approach.” I will stipulate, or agree strictly for the sake of moving an argument, to the opposition point of view.
So, I said “Fine. Let’s say he was born in Kenya. He would still be a natural born citizen because his mother was born in the United States. The bottom line, I told them, is that Obama was born a U.S. citizen via his mother and never needed to be naturalized.
Even if they wanted to take this argument to an extreme and say he REALLY isn’t a natural born citizen just because they say so, the federal constitution demands that someone who has been harmed by Obama must file a case in the appropriate court and say how Obama has harmed them. If someone did that, they would also have to find a way for the courts to redress the problem (hint: they can’t).
As is so often the case when people hear what they do not want to hear, my in-laws resorted to some tactics of their own. They told me that I shouldn’t be believed because I was from California (an “ad hominem” attack) and further insinuated that I am not as patriotic as they (a type of “straw man” tactic because they created a straw man by putting words in my mouth and then attacked me).
Other issues came up during our discussion that revealed more debating flaws. All of them derided socialism, but some of them admitted to having benefitted from it - my cousin-in-law who received good disability payments stemming from an injury while he served as a postal worker; my uncle-in-law, who received top medical benefits because of his military service; and my father-in-law, who was receiving care from a hospice. This flaw is known as hypocrisy, or perhaps "what's good for me is not good for them."
Our time together could not have been complete without one of them saying how much he hated illegal immigration. We finally agreed on something: illegal immigration is illegal. But as we drove around in triple-digit heat, we did not notice any white people out doing their landscaping. Someone asked if any of us, all of whom are here legally and have white skin, are willing to work in this kind of heat. It is hard to solve the problem of illegal immigration when those here legally have aversion to certain types of work. This debate problem is "talk is cheap."
By the time we finished talking, I sensed that the conversation benefitted me more than them. They probably had not heard in person from someone whose views did not match their own. It’s too bad because that is a good way to learn new things and to reduce one’s poor debating practices.
Footnotes: Here are two sites worth visiting on the subject of Obama’s eligibility to serve as President of the United States: