The Constitution mandates that only a "natural-born citizen" can become President. This is why a naturalized citizen such as, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger, could not run for President. Recently many PUMAs have made claims that Obama may have actually been born in Kenya, not Hawaii as is generally accepted, which would mean he is not a "natural-born citizen"; or that, even if he was born in Hawaii, there's some problem with his citizenship due to his father not having been an American citizen, or due to his possibly having acquired Indonesian nationality later. Here's a rundown on some of the claims, and why they would be important if true. The "controversy" over Obama's citizenship has become so widely discussed on PUMA blogs that it is threatening to engulf the movement; see for example the blog-roundup site Daily PUMA, which now has a special section for "citizenship issues".
Is there any fire under all the smoke? Believers focus on Obama's birth certificate, which has never been made publicly available; they believe that this may mean he has something to hide. The document released by Obama's campaign is a "certificate of live birth" (COLB), which is not the same as an actual birth certificate; claims have been advanced that it is a forgery. Several lawsuits have been filed to try to force Obama to reveal his actual birth certificate; it's remotely possible that the Supreme Court itself will decide today to address the issue.
The problem is that there's no evidence, or at least none that I've seen, to support the claim that Obama was not born in Hawaii. What "evidence" has been offered generally consists of hearsay or statements that need a lot of clarification before they can be given any weight. A good example is here (note that the question I asked in the comments thread -- a very obvious question -- has gone unanswered). The claim that Obama's COLB is a forgery has been debunked by Cannonfire (which, please note, is an anti-Obama site). A birth announcement appeared in a Hawaiian newspaper in 1961. With all the blogger interest in the subject, if there were any solid evidence out there to support the idea that Obama was born outside US territory, someone would have dug it up by now, and it would be all over the PUMAsphere in a matter of hours.
And as for the claims that Obama's non-American father somehow makes him not a "natural-born citizen", the fact that his father was Kenyan has been well known since long before he started running for President. If this were a solid disqualification, the issue would have come up a long time ago. The claims that are being made now are dependent on fine points of interpretation; the Supreme Court is very unlikely to set aside the results of a national election on such a basis.
I fear that this "controversy" is becoming the PUMA version of kool-aid. Who, after all, benefits from having all our legitimate objections to Obama discredited by association with something spurious? If that association takes root in the mass public mind, and Obama then produces his original birth certificate showing that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii, then his problem with this will be over -- but ours won't be. By 2010 and 2012, whenever PUMAs are mentioned, the common reaction will be, "Oh, yeah, those nuts who made all that fuss over the [snicker] birth certificate thing." Again, who benefits from this?
I really hope that I'm proven wrong on this one. No one would be happier than I if Obama were disqualified from the Presidency. But it just looks vanishingly unlikely that there's any substance to this thing. The people who pin their hopes on it are setting themselves up for a huge disappointment. Specters may look impressive, but they are not real.
Update (6 Dec.): The Supreme Court has postponed its decision on whether or not to grant a hearing to the lawsuit.