Even at my most drunk and grandiose, I would not attempt to convince anyone that I’d make a better president than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arianna Huffington, Mel Martinez, Jennifer Granholm, Henry Kissinger, Andrew Sullivan, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, or Anh Cao.
None of those people can be your president. I can.
Because I’m made of sturdier iron than Thatcher? No. Simply because I was born here.
Because I’ve wrestled budget messes more capably than Arnold? No. Simply because I was born here.
Because I’m more astute than Arianna? No. Simply because I was born here.
Because I know more about Congress from reading books than Martinez knows from being a senator? No. Simply because I was born here.
Because I’ve led a state facing more challenges than Granholm’s Michigan? No. Simply because I was born here.
Because I have Cao’s refugee perspective on why it’s worth risking one’s life to make it to the safe harbor of America? No. Simply because I was born here.
If I’m ever your president and you find yourself realizing that Schwarzenegger, Huffington, Martinez, Granholm, Kissinger, Sullivan, Mandela, Thatcher, or Cao could be doing a vastly better job, please take comfort in the knowledge that I was born in Port Jefferson, New York. What’s more, I was born in Port Jefferson, New York before I could even think or make choices for myself. Talk about foresight.
I mean, really. Cuba?! Vietnam?! Canada?!!! What were those fetuses thinking?
It’s as if none of them had read Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. It’s right there: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President …”
Let’s get serious here.
Article II, Section 1 should be amended. It’s antiquated. What’s more, it is all that gives even the flimsiest veneer of legitimacy to the ongoing fringe fixation on Barack Obama’s birth certificate and the claims by so-called “birthers” that the president is not an American citizen qualified to serve as president. (Incidentally, the birthers and their claims got the last best smackdown they deserve from Jon Stewart here.)
To be clear, I don’t propose we amend the Constitution to render Obama eligible to remain president. Obama was born here. He’s eligible. That does not seem to be open to sane debate.
But Article II, Section 1, as I said, is antiquated. The worldview it has come to represent — the paranoid xenophobia of the birthers — deserves to be repudiated. Not recklessly, mind you. America’s founders included these restrictions for a reason.
In the wake of the Revolutionary War, the founders didn’t want a Constitution that would permit the king of England to run for U.S. president. I get that. Nowadays, we need a Constitution that eliminates any chance that Osama bin Laden might win the presidency by hiring Rove and Carville to cobble together the God-hates-gays vote and the it’s-the-economy-stupid vote. I get that, too. I even get that we want a Constitution that prevents Nicolas Sarkozy from winning the White House in 2012 by squiring Carla Bruni around on a presidential campaign tour of America’s beaches.
But I don’t see who it hurts if Sarkozy wants to resign as president of France, move here, participate in our civic life, become a citizen, and run for the American presidency as soon as he becomes eligible under the amended Constitution. In 2032, let’s say.
We deserve better than the status quo. It’s a short-sighted patriotism — and indeed a perverse, self-defeating conservatism — that decides in the maternity ward itself that Margaret Thatcher will never, ever, under any circumstances be worthy of the presidential aspiration that is the birthright of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.