Register Thursday | May 19 | 2022

Who Cares if the Birthers are Right About Obama?

I am a Canadian-born American citizen. I can live and work in the United States, vote in American elections, and even, if I wished to debase myself, run for public office.

But can I run for president? That’s less clear. As the casually political and the casually racist know, the United States Constitution reads, “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.” The current president’s international heritage and all-around pussiness mark him as an obvious un-American, so the “birthers”—once relegated to the fringes, 9/11 Truth-style—now count as members a mainstream news anchor and a former vice-president’s daughter. What’s lost amid all the Zeitgest-The-Movie mouth breathing, though, is a simple question: why should it matter where Barack Obama was born?

It doesn’t make sense for a nation of immigrants to bar those born overseas from reaching its highest office. Like most developed countries, America’s population growth is sustained only through immigration, meaning a hugely important class of citizens—those born outside the country—are ineligible for the presidency. There’s no label for this but “racist.” If you were born in Beijing or Mexico City or Mumbai, you’re shit out of luck—some woman from Wasilla is better qualified to launch nuclear wars and pardon turkeys.

If hell freezes over and the birthers are proven right (this will never, ever happen), the appropriate public reaction would be disappointed indifference. Lying about one’s birthplace would hardly be the greatest lie an American president has told. (“I am not a crook,” “Mission Accomplished,” “I did not have sexual relations,” etc.) Such a revelation would only prove the idiocy of the law itself, that someone went to such lengths to break it. And considering the calibre of recent presidents, Obama included, it couldn’t hurt to cast the presidential net a little wider.

The natural-born-citizen clause has faced many formal challenges—most notably the “Amend for Arnold” campaign, launched when California was a happier place—and other hiccups over the years. Birthers tend to forget that John McCain was born on a military base in an American-controlled area of Panama, and was still allowed to run for president. That kind of rule-bending has occurred a few times in political history, and, because I was born to an American parent, it might even mean that people like me are eligible for the White House. But the issue hasn’t been settled for good. I am reminded of a certain novel in which animals not dissimilar from American politicians jockey for arbitrary power; all Americans are equal, but some Americans are more equal than others.