By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor
There’s something ugly growing in this country. Across the nation, state legislatures are debating bills that’ll have profound impact on future presidential elections. Known collectively as “birther” bills, they’re a variety of provisions requiring presidential candidates to submit proof of American citizenship before they can get their names on election ballots.
The so-called “birther” movement began during the 2008 election, when then-candidate Barack Obama was attacked by conservatives for having the temerity to not have two American parents. Some of his detractors denied, and continue to deny, that he’s an American citizen because his father was Kenyan.
Of course, there’s no proof to their claims. His mother was American, he was born in Hawaii and his birth certificate has been released and examined multiple times by non-partisan agencies. He’s an American citizen.
But that’s not enough for the birthers. The current spate of state laws is a result of that fringe movement. Ten states are currently considering bills of this type – Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Connecticut, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Maine and Nebraska.
That’s right, Nebraska. Even here, in the usually-sensible heartland of America, the seed of birther insanity has taken root. And like the weed it is, it’s spread its choking tendrils through the Unicameral.
The weed sprouting in Nebraska is LB654, a 14-page bill submitted by State Sen. Mike Christensen that requires presidential candidates to not only submit their long-form birth certificates, but the birth certificates of both parents.
The constitutional requirements for serving as president are fairly simple – you have to be at least 35 years old, have lived in the country for at least 14 years continuously and be a natural born citizen. There’s nothing in there about birth certificates, either long or short forms, nor are there any specific requirements concerning parentage.
It’s the part about being a “natural born citizen” that’s the source of debate. The men who wrote the Constitution were vague on that point. The 12th Amendment clears it up somewhat, stating that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States,” but even this doesn’t seem to satisfy the most hard-core birthers. Apparently, even though Obama was born in Hawaii in 1964, three years after it became a state, he’s not really American because his father was Kenyan.
Folks, this isn’t about the Constitution. There have been six American presidents in history that had one foreign-born parent – Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, James Buchanan, Chester Arthur, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover – and the nation survived.
Senator John McCain’s eligibility was challenged in 2008 when it became known that he was born in a military hospital in the Panama Canal zone. That challenge went nowhere, and rightly so – questioning the constitutional qualifications of a retired military veteran and former prisoner-of-war was beyond the pale. No, there’s something uglier at work here.
What is it that makes Obama different from the seven men listed above? Though the birthers deny it, the real reason they’re shouting so loudly about Obama’s birth certificate has nothing to do with the Constitution. As I said earlier, he’s released the document, it’s been examined by many agencies and it’s been certified valid. He’s constitutionally qualified to hold the office to which he’s been elected.
The difference between Obama and the other six presidents whose parents were foreign-born is that he’s not white.
The image of a black man living in the White House has so completely unhinged these people that they’re going to any lengths to make sure he isn’t able to run successfully again. They’re promulgating bills that, if enacted, would have real and lasting impact on future elections. The law of unintended consequences is indiscriminate in its results.
For example, consider the case of a child born overseas, say in England, in a British hospital, to American parents. He or she would have a birth certificate issued by the United Kingdom. Would that person be able to put his or her name on a Nebraska ballot?
And what about someone whose father was an American serviceman, but whose mother was Japanese – or Korean, Filipino, German or any other nationality? If unable to provide a “long form birth certificate” for both parents, would he or she be shut out of the race?
Besides, how many of us really have copies of our long form certificates in our files? I don’t. I’ve never needed it. You don’t need it to join the military, get a passport – except in California and Texas – or get a job. It’s just not something you keep around. And most states, including Hawaii, don’t release them. If you need a copy, you get the short form, and that’s good enough.
Now, I’m all for following the principles of the Constitution and making sure its rules and requirements are followed. After all, I spent 21 years of my life defending it. But this seems to me not just an egregious example of excessive bureaucracy. It’s a sign of the nativism growing in America, the attitude that we need to do what we can to keep “undesirables” out. It’s expressed itself in anti-immigrant sentiments – ironic in a nation founded by immigrants – in anti-Muslim hysteria and in birtherism.
For these people, it’s not enough for a candidate to meet the minimum requirements of the Constitution. No, he or she must be the “right kind” of person, as defined by the birthers.
These laws must be stopped. They’re misguided and short-sighted. America has had many presidents, some good, others not so great. The birthplace of a president’s parents makes no difference in how well he or she governs. Herbert Hoover was as lousy a president as Thomas Jefferson was great. Both had a foreign-born parent. Likewise, George W. Bush’s parents were both American-born, and many would argue he was one of our worst presidents.
Parentage does not determine leadership. America is an extraordinary nation, and it deserves to be led by extraordinary people. If we insist on placing undue importance on documents rather than character, we risk denying our nation the leadership it will need to succeed in the future. Also, these constant demands for “proof” of Obama’s citizenship, despite clear evidence of same, only serve to undermine his authority as president. It also makes Americans look foolish to the rest of the world.
At the risk of being repetitive, here are the facts: Obama was born in Hawaii, not Kenya or Indonesia or anywhere else the birthers claim. He has a valid birth certificate. In fact, he’s released it to the public, despite what Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump and other high-profile right-wing cranks choose to believe. He’s the president whether they like it or not, and is constitutionally qualified to lead this country.
The argument should be over. The fact that it isn’t says more about the birthers than it does about the facts.