By Bob Gaydos
One of the more unusual aspects of last year’s presidential campaign is that the candidates of both major parties were born outside the mainland of the United States in places that were, at different times, within jurisdiction of the United States if not actually one of the states. President Barack Obama was born in 1961 of a Kenyan father and American mother in Hawaii, two years after the territory became the 50th state in the union. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 of American parents. Despite challenges from the fringes to their “natural born” citizenry, both men were declared legally eligible to run for president.
Most Americans were not aware of this oddity and, in truth, most probably did not care. The laws making both men “natural born” citizens of the United States seemed to be clear and both men had demonstrated sufficient ability and patriotism over their careers to justify their candidacies. In truth, there was a lot more to justify their candidacies than there is to justify the antiquated legal thinking that requires someone be a “natural-born citizen to be eligible to hold the office of president.
If you have somehow escaped the idiocy, the question of presidential citizenship arises today because yet another wacky group of rightwingers has chosen to make it more difficult for responsible Republicans to admit their allegiance in public. This group is known as “Birthers.” (Close to Birchers. Remember them?) Birthers believe that Obama is not a natural-born American citizen. Why? Well, they just do. They do not take the word of the State of Hawaii, which has on more than one occasion produced a copy of the original birth certificate of the president. They do not accept newspaper reports of his birth at the time. They do not accept various investigations that showed Obama was born in the good old USA. They do not accept the vote of the Congress declaring Obama to be legit. They don’t like the man. They don’t like this name. They don’t like his smarts. Some probably don’t like the color of his skin. So they advance their conspiracy theory in the face of all things rational and with the help of some media figures who know full well what they are doing.
The Birthers have been given unwarranted air time by Rush Limbaugh, who will say anything to stir up his faithful listeners for higher ratings, and by CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who is rapidly becoming the face of the “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” crowd. He should be fired. Both men persist in stating that “doubts” remain about Obama’s citizenship and “questions” remain to be answered. Only in the minds of the delusional and the politically devious. Even Liz Cheney has gone on TV to lend credence to the “doubters,” suggesting that maybe this apple did not fall as far from the tree as once thought.
Adding to the lunacy, the primary Birther appears to be Orly Taitz, a Russian-born dentist, who in true American fashion got a law degree online and has used it to challenge Obama’s birthright in court for years, to no avail. It appears that Taitz and another birther, Stefan Cook, conspired to raise the question through the military. Cook, a major in the Army Reserve, volunteered in February to serve in Afghanistan, but when his orders came through he refused on conscientious objector grounds, saying he could not follow orders from an illegitimate commander-in-chief. Since this would require a court hearing and since engineers were needed quickly in Afghanistan and since Cook had volunteered to serve and was within his rights to change his mind and since the Army knew full well what Cook was up to, his orders were promptly rescinded. No public court showdown for Taitz, whom Cook had retained to defend him if the Army had taken the bait. Taitz, of course, say the Army’s decision is proof that it cannot prove Obama is legitimate.
This is all annoying and beyond humorous and also unnecessary. And it’s all because of Article II, Section I, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “No person except a natural born Citizen … shall be eligible for the Office of President.” Those ellipses represent the exception clause in the article, which the authors had to include because at the time no one old enough to serve would have been a natural born citizen of the United States. It allowed those who were citizens of colonies at the time of the writing to also serve, which cleared the way for Washington and six more Founding Fathers. New York’s own Martin Van Buren was the first natural-born American to serve as president. He was the eighth in line. He also gave us the term “O.K.” (Old Kinderhook), which is perhaps just as significant.
Some members of Congress (not many) are pushing a law requiring presidential candidates to prove they are natural born citizens. But why? Surely we have had enough experience with foreign-born, naturalized citizens serving in important government positions by now to know that one’s place of birth is not nearly as important as his or her abilities and proven loyalty to the United States. We are more than ever a nation of immigrants and immigrants’ children. And if Barack Obama had been born in Hawaii just before it became a state, would he be any less capable of being president? Or, for those Republicans out there, shouldn’t Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger be able to run for president? Or maybe being governor of California is way easier than being governor of Alaska. At least Arnold hasn’t quit.
It’s simple. Change the law. If you have lived in this country for at least 20 years, are old enough and are a citizen, you can run for president. Hey, it’s the American Dream.
Bob can be reached at Bob@zestoforange.com