Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revisiting the Birthers - and the subset of "Citizen"

So, a politically-polar-opposite EbertFest friend of mind Tweeted this week his disdain that a Birther challenge was back in the news.

Wait...what? Wasn't the Birther issue resolved months ago when Barack Obama finally publicized a long-form birth certificate?

Well, not entirely - as I read shortly after when my pre-bought copy of Dr. Jerome Corsi's book "Where's the Birth Certificate" arrived. Hey, I bought it already. Might as well read it.

When I did I realized that the first challenge that Corsi raised was not related to - and did not depend on - the birth certificate. Corsi was proclaiming Obama ineligible to be President based on a second reason, the citizenship of Obama's parents. A challenge never raised or settled.

Which is what has the Birther issue back in the news, this time with a challenge to potential Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican side, Marco Rubio - whose parents came to the US from Cuba before Rubio was born here.

You have to give this to the Birthers with the Rubio challenge: it is consistent and shows them motivated by constitutional issues and not partisan party issues. I, for example, dislike Obama's policies and probably like Rubio's policies (he's too new to know for sure). But, consistency says they must both be challenged.

Let's remember what is being challenged here. It's not whether someone is a good person or not. It's not whether they can be in the country or not. It's not whether they can hold almost all of the jobs in the US. What is being challenged is one thing: eligibility to hold on job in America, our leader, the President of the United States. A job which has a specific eligibility test right there in the Constitution.

You remember the Constitution, yes? It is our foundational document, our one touchstone. It was thrashed out by our Founders after they won the right to form a country through a bloody war where they pledged their blood, their treasure, their sacred honor. It was a document where the Founders had the audacity to believe that they could establish the rules for the country that they would leave us - something about "securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..." - and for who the leader would be.

Remembering, of course, that they had just thrown out a government in England and were forming a new one they had an idea that the new leader should not have a dual allegiance. That the leader should be loyal to this new country, and this country alone. So while they grandfathered in everyone a citizen at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, they set a rule for going forward - that the leader should be a "natural born Citizen".

Ah, those three contested words. What is a "natural born Citizen"? Some things to know about what the Founders thought that meant.

First, not all citizens are eligible. If they were then the modifier "natural born" - which modify the capitalized "Citizen" - would not be needed. Those eligible are a subset of citizens.

Second, as Corsi well describes in his book, the Founders drew from "natural law" for the meaning of "natural born". What did they mean, in natural law?
"The natives or natural born citizens are people born in the country of parents who are citizens."

So, "natural born" has two parts:

1) born here - Which is what the challenge to Barack Obama's birth certificate was all about. Note: naturalized does not count, as we all understand in the case of Arnold Schwarznegger.

2) of two parents who are citizens. Which has not yet been fully challenged. There are some indications that this meant primarily through the father. But the word is citizens plural.

Barack Obama did not meet the second clause, because his father was a Kenyan/British citizen and not a US citizen. Barack Jr. was a dual citizen at birth - US (assuming the first clause is true and he was born in Hawaii) and Kenyan/British through his father.

By this definition of "natural born Citizen", as the Founding Fathers understood it, Barack Obama was at birth not eligible to be President of the United States. That is not a racist argument, no matter how many times race-obsessed lazy liberals make that charge on the internet. It is a Founding Fathers / Constitutional loyalty argument.

And, it is the argument that Birthers will likely make against Marco Rubio if they are to be consistent and not partisan. Rubio, whose parents are from Cuba and were naturalized as US citizens four years after Marco was born, was also born not eligible to be President if this definition of "natural born Citizens" is correct. Citizen, yes. President, no. There's a distinction.

So, was this natural law definition of "natural born Citizen" altered by amendments or laws after the Constitution was adopted? Well, several folks have Tweeted me the 14th Amendment. But, as I read the clauses they are defining who is a "citizen", not it's modifier subset "natural born Citizen". Go read it. Without bias. It says citizen. So does title 8 and everything else you've Tweeted me.

In fact, an article link sent to me to prove Rubio qualifies had this sentence within it, but overlooked:

"Do you have to be born within the territorial limits of the United States to be such a citizen?  No, said the Founders.  The Heritage Foundation's Guide shows how the First Congress in 1790 provided that "the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond the sea or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born."

You saw it right? "the children of citizens of the United States...shall be considered as natural born".  So, the "children of citizens" was the compelling factor in 1790 for the Congress.

Is there established case law on this question? I don't think so. Corsi goes through all of the challenges to presidential candidates over the years, and there were more than I thought. None were challenged on the 2nd part - children of citizens. How many candidates have we had since the Revolution whose parents were born foreign citizens? It's just coming up now, with Obama and now Rubio. It's yet to be settled.

I don't 100% know the correct definition of "natural born citizen". These arguments are complex, and not easily argued in 140-character Twitterbates. Do the hard work. Read Corsi's book for yourself and don't let others tell you what it says.

And for God's sake, stop calling people racist over an argument that you don't fully understand. It's uncivil.

Should we care in this day and age and in this land of immigrants where a candidate's parents come from? Does dual citizenship at birth mean a dual allegiance that they Founders were keen on preventing?

Well, let's take the case of Barack Obama - indisputably a dual citizen at birth in the best case. US citizen. Kenyan/British citizen. Can you be sure that this "son of Africa" as they call him there, has as President only one loyalty? Can you say for sure as he's involved our country deeper and deeper on the African continent (spending to support adoption of the Kenyan Constitution, drones in Yemen, air power in Libya, now troops in Africa to hunt down the LRA - all without US national interests as verified by Sec. Gates) that it has nothing at all to do with having half of his family in Africa? Could you say that any policy of Rubio's regarding Cuba would be from an allegiance only to the US and not in any way to Cuba?

I can't for sure. You can't for sure. That's why it's important. One loyalty in our leader, and only one loyalty. The Founders wanted that, and so do I.


  1. Andrew Jackson, president from 1829 to 1837, was the child of Scots-Irish immigrants. His older siblings were born in Ireland. His presidency was not so long after the establishment of the nation, but his parents having been born in Ireland was not an issue.

  2. Andrew Jackson, born in 1767 - before the Constitution was signed, doesn't count. There is a grandfather clause that makes eligible all who were citizens at the time of the signing. They had to, because all of their parents were foreign to the US before the signing. So, those eligible are those who were citizens at the time of the signing and natural born citizens (thereafter). I think we're fresh out of people in the first category.

  3. Hi Randy,

    As a lover of history i couldn't pass this up:

    odd source:

    Don't count because of grandfather clause:

    Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) is the only president born of two immigrants, both Irish.

    Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), whose mother was born in England,


    James Buchanan (1857-1861) and Chester Arthur (1881-1885), both of whom had Irish fathers,

    Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) whose mother was born in England.

    Herbert Hoover (1929-1933),mother were born respectively Canada.

    Hoover's mother, Hulda Randall (Minthorn) Hoover (1849–84), was born in Norwich, Ontario, Canada, of English and Irish descent.

    That's a lot of presidents! and precedents.

    Michel Lamontagne