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November 22, 2004
No Need For 28th Amendment

William Safire picks up on the Amend for Arnold enthusiasm coming from California and writes an impassioned argument for allowing foreign-born naturalized citizens to run for President. He makes the only argument that carries any water whatsoever -- that the Constitutional bar effectively creates two classes of citizens with unequal standing:

Article II of the Constitution directed that in the future only "natural born" citizens would be eligible for the nation's highest office. There may have been reason for suspicion of the foreign-born as the nation was in formation, but that nativist bias has no place in a nation proud of its "golden door."

When an immigrant is naturalized, his or her citizenship becomes as natural as "natural born." The oath taken and the pledge of allegiance given make the immigrant 100 percent American, with all the rights, privileges and obligations appertaining thereto. All except one - the right to the greatest political success.

That makes all naturalized citizens - including taxpayers, voters, servicemembers - slightly less than all-American. Even children born abroad of U.S. citizens have fallen under the shadow of Article II; this has caused pregnant women to race back to our shores to make certain their children's political potential is not somehow beclouded.

I somehow doubt that the last argument consists of anything more than hyperbole; I'd like to know the cases to which Safire refers where a woman rushed home to the US in order to preserve her child's eligiblity for the Presidency. I'd hazard a guess that for those pregnant mothers-to-be who do rush back here, health care and a sense of loyalty play a larger role than aspirations to the White House.

Unfortunately, that's the over-the-top, emotional kind of arguments we hear in this debate. Arnold's great! He's a centrist! We should amend the Constitution! Look, I'm as much a fan of Arnold as anyone -- I was delighted when he ran for governor, understanding that his bypassing of the primaries (and his celebrity) gave him a huge boost in unseating Gray Davis. He makes a good governor and may make a great one, although pushing a six-billion-dollar bond bill while California already drowns in red ink shakes my confidence more than a little.

That doesn't translate into a need to amend the Constitution to allow Arnold to run. I'm sympathetic to the one argument about naturalization creating a second-class citizenship, but the exception is so narrow that it becomes essentially meaningless. In over two hundred years under the Constitution, we've had 43 Presidents. How many opportunities have there been for discrimination to be significant? Besides, as the head of state, the President represents the country abroad, and I think that requiring that person to be native-born enhances the representative nature of the office.

Lastly, why should we need to look to immigrants for that representation? Immigrants fill all sorts of vital roles in our culture, and do so magnificently; two are sitting governors, and many others come to Congress and work as high-profile advisors to Presidents. We should be able to find qualified and intelligent candidates among the pool of native-born Americans for the presidency. The need to amend the Constitution doesn't exist.

Safire disagrees, but for his own reasons. At the end of his plea, he shares his vision of the 2008 Presidential race, a ridiculous prediction that in itself argues against the amendment he proposes:

After ratification of the 28th Amendment in 2007, I envision a G.O.P. ticket the next year with Rudy Giuliani or John McCain on top and Schwarzenegger as running-mate. For Democrats, Evan Bayh or Hillary Clinton for president, Peter Jennings (Canadian-born) for v.p.

Chew that one over.

And then spit it out. If you can imagine the GOP nominating two left-centrists as their ticket in 2008, then you must be from the New York media. Two of the three are pro-choice, and the one who isn't (McCain) has hardly made himself the darling of the conservative wing the past four years. The idea of Peter Jennings as a VP candidate is even more laughable. Does Safire think that network television anchors will lend the Democrats credibility, after the CBS debacle in September and the Halperin memo in October? Even the Democrats aren't that clueless.

It's an interesting debate, but I hardly think that amending the Constitution to allow Arnold to run for President makes any policy sense. Doing it for Peter Jennings is nothing short of insane.

UPDATE: Corrected "pro-life" to "pro-choice" in the next-to-last paragraph.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 22, 2004 6:31 AM

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