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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Our native-born presidents

WHEN Republicans saw the impact that charismatic body-builder, movie superstar, businessman, and Kennedy in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger visited upon California voters, notions of the presidency, like sugar plums, danced in their heads.

No sooner was the Austrian native out of the gate last year than Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, pious in his indignation about what we ask of the foreign-born, proposed a bill to let them compete for the highest public office in the land.

The constitutional provision that excludes all but "natural born" citizens, Mr. Hatch claimed, was antiquated, and 20 years as a citizen ought to be enough. The House had a similar bill proposing a 35-year-wait.

Now that Mr. Schwarzenegger, who won handily in his bid for the California governorship in a recall election last year, is wetting his finger and putting it up to see which way the wind is blowing, it's time for a firm "No Way!"

There are multiple reasons why. Prime among them is the national interest. We know from our own government's historical manipulation of governments abroad that foreign agents could manipulate ours, given half a chance. They don't need the invitation of constitutional change.

Our Founding Fathers were well aware of the threat of the return of the British and their Tory sympathizers.

They knew, too, that in their recent past, foreign operatives from three nations aimed to sway the Polish monarchy to get it to cede land to them. Article II is not an item of whimsy, but a hedge against sabotage by a foreign power.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has yet to prove himself competent to run a state, let alone a nation, but there's no denying his excellence as a political stumper able to sway people with the force of his personality.

That's a warranted cause for alarm among the politically astute. John Jay once wrote in Federalist No. 64 that electors shouldn't be fooled by people with "brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism which, like transient meteors, sometimes mislead as well as dazzle."

Given the time it would take for a constitutional amendment to be passed and ratified by the states, the California governor would be unlikely to profit from it, though Canadian-born Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, might.

Regardless, the requirement that the leader of our nation must be a native-born American is a good one and ought to remain.



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