Yao Ming's road to the White House

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Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) proposes amending the constitution to allow naturalized citizens to hold an office even Zanzibar-born Freddie Mercury assured Americans he didn't want: the President of America.

The proposed amendment makes for some interesting splits among pols in California (and presumably, other states). Governor Schwarzenegger, no doubt eyeing a federal ban on foie gras, supports the idea. GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has introduced a similar bill in the House. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is all for it but quibbles over the necessary time of residency and/or citizenship. But fellow Democrat (and naturalized citizen) Rep. Tom Lantos comes out strongly against:

I am irrevocably opposed. Our Constitution should only be amended for the most pressing and substantive reasons. There are 250 million native-born Americans, and there ought to be enough talent among them to find someone to serve as president.

"But," Lantos adds in his most charming Count Chocula accent, "if there is a restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, I am ready to consider a joint candidacy with Arnold, provided I am on top of the ticket."

Although the Bush/Kerry race gives the lie to the idea that our native-born talent pool is large enough, I kind of side with Lantos on this one. Being denied the presidency is a pretty light burden for a naturalized citizen to bear, and in the absence of any pressing need, amending the constitution should always be a low priority. But I'm willing to be persuaded on this issue.

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  1. “Being denied the presidency is a pretty light burden for a naturalized citizen to bear, and in the absence of any pressing need, amending the constitution should always be a low priority.”

    It’s not the politicians who are being denied their rights. It’s the voting public, who 1) are having their voting rights curtailed for no good reason, and 2) are potentially being denied the best available leadership.

    Granholm in 2012!

  2. Let me get this straight… Republicans want to ban gay marriage AND allow foreigners to be president?

    WTF?

  3. I really couldn’t care less on this one. If I were in Congress I would vote for the amendment if it came to the floor, but I would exert exactly zero energy to bring it to the floor and debate it.

    I’m curious what Ron Paul thinks about this.

    I’m pretty sure I already know what Lonewacko thinks about it.

    I agree that the domestic talent pool is pretty shallow. I’m just not convinced that the imported talent pool is much deeper. I mean, is Arnold really the best you can come up with? In the end, I think that our imported politicians are every bit as shallow and craven as our home-grown politicians.

  4. Anything from Orrin Hatch is assured to be bad. See, for instance, the DREAM Act, of which he’s the co-sponsor. Dana Rohrabacher is right about a lot of things, but occasionally he proposes things knowing they aren’t going to be passed.

    We shouldn’t allow this for the reasons stated and also because of the possibility that someone would still – even after all those years – have allegiances to a foreign land. For an example of why this is bad, see Peru Mad With Fujimori Citizenship.

    (P.S. If you’re unable to read and understand what I write above, and/or if you’re obsessed with me for some other reason, please seek help.)

  5. Constitutional amendments seem to be the dumping ground for every hair-brained scheme they can come up with: see flag burning for example. How about a trade off? Amend it so Arnold and Bill Clinton could run. Who’d win that one? I’d bet a fair amount of money Clinton could annihilate anyone the republicans have, including W, but maybe not Arnold.

  6. There’s this weird feeling of inevitability about Arnold’s ascension to the White House, and I swear I’ve either seen a movie or read a Stephen King book where the smiling robot-Austrian climbs to the top, lets out a wicked laugh as his eyes turn glowing red, and then orders up Armageddon. I can’t decide whether this is reason to root for the stupid Constitution-meddling or not.

  7. I gotta speak up for the next generation here, since I just changed his diapers. My son arrived in this nation last year at eight months, and he’s already demonstrating greater potential than either current candidate. I want to vote for him for President some day, dammit.

  8. Maybe the Simpsons can update the song “I’m a Amendment to Be” for Ranier Wolfcastle.

  9. I don’t know, Arthur, I think our newest nephew (born in the US in April 2004) is pretty darn cute and intelligent. He could totally kick your son’s ass in a Presidential race!

    Given how much common sense and creativity our nephews and nieces exhibit, I think we should amend the Constitution to say that the President must be no older than 10.

  10. I just prefer to live in a world where Arnold Schwarzenegger can (and probably will if the amendment passes) become President.

  11. I think this issue just goes to show that, if we’re going to go through the trouble of amending the Constitution, then it’s time for a new method of selecting presidents (and perhaps other offices).

    Since, in most cases, those who want the job should not be allowed to hold it, I propose that the president be selected by lottery. Shortest straw gets stuck in the White House for four years. Same with Congress — what’s more representative than a “statistically representative sample”? If a telephone poll of a few thousand randomly-selected people can give results with less than a few points of error, surely that’s good enough for legistlative representation, no?

    Alternatively, we could go with Russian Roulette. It would certainly avoid all that “recount” bother and “hanging Chad” would get a whole new meaning.

  12. Re: Peru Mad With Fujimori Citizenship

    Fujimori was born in Peru. If someone was born in the US under the same conditions that person would be a “natural born Citizen” and so eligible for the office per Art I, Sect 1, Clause 5 of the COTUS. There are few restrictions on dual nationality in US law.

    I was born in a US Territory to US citizen parents but spent barely three of my first thirty-one years living in the US. One could make the case that I could easily have developed an allegiance to the country that I lived in from age fifteen months to fifteen years or the the other country I lived in for about fourteen years. I am also eligible to be prez.

    I have a relative who was born in France to US citizen parents. He is claimed as a “natural born Citizen” by both countries. He has spent most of his life living in the US, and has had a fairly prominent public life. He too is eligible.

    Your contention that a naturalized citizen would necessarily be less loyal is unfounded.

  13. CodeMonkeySteve

    I think you’re on the right track here. 🙂

  14. Let me get this straight… Republicans want to ban gay marriage AND allow foreigners to be president?

    Naturalized citizens are NOT foreigners. They’re citizens of the United States of America, and it is, in my opinion, wrong that they are discriminated against.

    A naturalized citizen has chosen to be an American, which is more than most of the other 300 million people in this nation can claim. We were born here; we’re Americans by accident of birth. Naturalized citizens made a conscious choice to leave the place where they were born — the culture they were familiar with — and come to what was, to them, a foreign country, and adopt it as their own. They are among the most patriotic and loyal of Americans; they should not be excluded from any office just because they had the misfortune to have been born somewhere else.

    Anyway, I’m disappointed that Lantos opposes the amendment — in part because I’d have liked to see him run for President himself. He’s a pretty amazing guy.

  15. Is Lone “Wolf” Wacko implying that Orin Hatch is obsessed with him?

    The Dream Act stands for Development, Relief, and Education Relief for Alien Minors Act, and it does two things: it lets the children of long time immigrants pay “in-state” college tuition and it allows long time immigrant children of “good moral character” to apply for permanent resident status.

    I don’t see what the Dream Act has to do with whether or not we should allow someone born outside the borders of the United States to become President; but, maybe I just feel that way because of my lack of credibility. For more information about my lack of credibility, check out this link:

    https://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2004/09/are_you_drunk_o.shtml

    Back to the topic, I’m also open to persuasion, but I’m sitting on the other side of the fence. I suspect Alexander Hamilton, for instance, would have made a terrific President and I think joe’s right about it being my right to vote for whomever I please.

  16. Question: is Arnold eligible to be vice president? Or does his potential elevation to the presidency upon the death of the president disqualify him? If the latter, would not any naturalized citizen in the chain of succession be similarly disqualified? (Kissinger, as Secretary of State, for instance). It would seem that naturalized citizens could be in the chain of succession to the presidency as long as they are skipped over in their turn, should it come to them…there is still time for Dick Cheney to step aside before the debate tomorrow.

  17. Question: is Arnold eligible to be vice president?

    No.

    From Amendment XII

    But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

  18. “Let me get this straight… Republicans want to ban gay marriage AND allow foreigners to be president?”

    Will,

    Did you flunk 3rd grade set theory or are you lazy. I’m lazy if that helps. Tell us the truth now.

  19. As long as we’re changing the Constitution to let Arnold be President, how about we replace the Electoral College with a steel cage match, winner take all?

  20. “I suspect Alexander Hamilton, for instance, would have made a terrific President…”

    Article I actually includes specific language so that Alexander Hamilton was eligible to be President.

  21. Sorry, I’ve done it twice; typed Article I instead of Article II.

    “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; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.

    *or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution,* is the Alexander Hamilton clause and was included for him according to some.

  22. A challenge; why should a citizen, naturalized or otherwise, not be allowed all the same rights and privileges of a citizen born on US soil? None that I see. However, is there a pressing need to amend? Again, none that I see.

  23. Exactly, B. Like I said, if I were in Congress I would vote for it if it came to the floor for a vote, but I wouldn’t be putting any energy into bringing it to the floor.

    Still, although I may consider this amendment a low priority, telling jokes about it is a very HIGH priority. As are jokes about any other joke-worthy subject. Hence my suggestion of replacing the electoral college with a gladiator tournament. I suspect that Jesse Ventura would beat the crap out of Arnold, btw.

  24. Dan is 100% correct. I am a naturalized citizen and consider myself American first, I did move here at age 1. Seeing as Tim took the, obvious, quip I wanted to make about there being enough candidates from 250 million native born citizens, I will add one thing. Often naturalized citizens have a more idealized view of America. The liberties and the quality of life that many citizens take for granted are often fresh in the minds of a naturalized citizen even decades after they come over. They will often bring an energy and a desire to keep the land of the free that came for.

    Put simply, I think your average 60s Berkeley grad is more likely to implement Soviet economic policies than a natualized Russian from the same time period (on the flip side, I’d say your average Southern baptist would be more likely to implement theocratic policies than the average naturalized Iranian) because they know where those policies would lead.

  25. I wasn’t aware of that Issac, point taken.

    Still, it seems absurd to suggest that people like John Shalikashvili and Madeleine Albright aren’t American enough to be president just because they weren’t born within our borders.

  26. A challenge; why should a citizen, naturalized or otherwise, not be allowed all the same rights and privileges of a citizen born on US soil? None that I see. However, is there a pressing need to amend? Again, none that I see.

    If the law denies someone a right, and there’s no apparent reason why that person should be denied that right, isn’t that, alone, enough to establish a pressing need to change the law? It seems to me that any pointless restriction on anyone’s freedom should be removed at the earliest opportunity.

  27. ‘If the law denies someone a right, and there’s no apparent reason why that person should be denied that right, isn’t that, alone, enough to establish a pressing need to change the law?’

    Absolutely, but I think there are vastly more pressing issues along these lines. Example; depriving non-American Indians of the right to participate in ritual peyote use. Utah recently corrected this, but I think it is currently the only state.

  28. George Washington was NOT born in the United States. He was born in Virginia, a colony. So the rule might have been for Hamilton, but avoided wording problems, too, and avoided having the country ruled by Napoleon — by vote. Russia may have saved the USA’s butt from France same as it saved many a GI from Nazi guns.
    Why does the president have to be a citizen? ha ha. The clause does prevent one form of constitutional take over.

  29. All I can say is: Presinator 2008!

    No, but seriously, could you imagine a more enticing combination of competence and entertainment value?

  30. Absolutely, but I think there are vastly more pressing issues along these lines. Example; depriving non-American Indians of the right to participate in ritual peyote use.

    Could you please explain why the naturalized citizens’ rights should be held hostage to the American public’s belief that peyote should be illegal? The two things have nothing to do with one another.

  31. “I suspect that Jesse Ventura would beat the crap out of Arnold, btw.”

    Jesse was SEAL, and is bigger than Arnold to boot. So I’d more than suspect it. I’d put Arnold as a 20:1 underdog to open.

  32. ‘Could you please explain why the naturalized citizens’ rights should be held hostage to the American public’s belief that peyote should be illegal?’

    A naturalized citizen does not have the right to be elected president, thats what we are discussing here.

  33. It’s not just naturalized citizens. It’s also American citizens like myself who were randomly born abroad. American expat kids are usually children of either technical, military, diplomatic, or business people. Not that I’m running for president any time soon.

  34. It’s not just naturalized citizens. It’s also American citizens like myself who were randomly born abroad. American expat kids are usually children of either technical, military, diplomatic, or business people. Not that I’m running for president any time soon.

  35. ‘Could you please explain why the naturalized citizens’ rights should be held hostage to the American public’s belief that peyote should be illegal?’

    A naturalized citizen does not have the right to be elected president, thats what we are discussing here

    Ok, let me rephrase in a manner you’ll be able to understand:

    You do not have the right to use peyote. Naturalized citizens do not have the right to become President. Could you give a reason why naturalized citizens should have to wait to be granted their (new) rights until after you have convinced Americans that you should be given the (new) right to use peyote?

    If that formulation is too complex for you, here’s an even simpler one:

    A majority of Americans do not think you should be allowed to use peyote. Please explain why discussion of new legislation should be indefinitely delayed pending a successful public relations campaign on behalf of peyote legalization.

  36. thoreau,

    You might be remembering “Demolition Man.”
    Courtesy of IMDB…

    LeninaHuxley : I have, in fact, perused some newsreels in the Schwartzenegger Library.
    JohnSpartan : Hold it. The Schwartzenegger Library?
    LeninaHuxley : Yes. The Schwartzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn’t he an actor when you…
    JohnSpartan : But how? He was President?
    LeninaHuxley : Yes! Even though he wasn’t born in this country, his popularity at the time caused the 61st Amendment which states…
    JohnSpartan : I don’ wanna know. President.

  37. I think the very first post, by Joe, got the point. The “born in the USA” requirement is a form of protectionism, restricting the choice of “consumers” of presidents, to the benefit of the domestic president-making industry. No wonder the domestic supply seems to be decreasing in quality lately.

    But I also like the idea of selecting presidents by lot. The ancient Athenians did something like this. They saw elections of public officials as oligarchal and anti-democratic. See:

    http://libertariannation.org/a/f41l1.html (The use of lots to fill public offices is discussed beginning with the section “Legislative Branch” but the whole thing is an interesting if lengthy read.)

  38. Isaac Bartram: Fujimori was born in Peru. If someone was born in the US under the same conditions that person would be a “natural born Citizen” and so eligible for the office per Art I, Sect 1, Clause 5 of the COTUS. There are few restrictions on dual nationality in US law.

    The Fujimori case is applicable to, for instance, President Arnold. What if he has serious problems? Could he seek sanctuary in Austria? Are there foreign countries that, for instance, John McCain or Jesse Jackson could ask for shelter?

    Which is more likely: John McCain or Jesse Jackson favoring one specific country when the chips are down, or President Arnold.

    What about President Pierce Brosnan? What if legislation is proposed that would favor the U.S. over Ireland, wouldn’t he feel conflicted?

    There are enough people who have birth citizenship that there is no need for such a radical change to our most basic document.

    And, for those who are unable to follow links, from this: [With the DREAM Act, Orrin Hatch] and his colleagues are literally taking opportunities and tuition assistance away from the children of citizens and giving them to illegal aliens… Supporters of this bill are unabashedly placing the interests of illegal aliens above American families who have paid taxes and played by the rules…

    I also appear to have forgotten to include this bit in bold: (P.S. If you’re unable to read and understand what I write above, and/or if you’re obsessed with me for some other reason, please seek help.)

  39. Okay, so I think we agree we should be able to vote for whomever we wish. But no Republican can propose this amendment – Kerry will just accuse them of trying to outsource another American job.

  40. Yeah,
    I am a big fan of Arnolds, but I think that if we can’t find a good president from amongst 260 million citizens. I really think the problem won’t be fixed by allowing immigrants to run.

    (Actually the 260 million number is not realistic because it includes infants, people on their deathbed, and inmates, and individuals in the military not eligible until they complete their term)

  41. Please, somebody help me. I need some help. I need help understanding what the Dream Act has to do with whether or not foreign-born Americans are American enough to be President.

    However, as long as we’re on the subject, …

    I didn’t go to public schools and yet the government forced my folks to pay for them. I didn’t graduate from a public college or take out a loan, but the government forces me to underwrite the public education of other people’s children. I don’t yet have any children of my own, but if and when I do, I won’t send them to public schools. Still, when the government spends my money on the public education of other people’s children, it doesn’t bother me much. However, it would bother me and a lot of other people plenty if we were to find out that the government was using our money to discriminate against the children of immigrants on the basis of their parents’ national origin.

    “Anything from Orrin Hatch is assured to be bad.”

    If Orrin Hatch proposed a bill to round up all the immigrants in America and send them back where they came from, would you support it?

    …logically, of course, this has nothing to do with the topic.

    P.S. If you’re compulsively propagating xenophobia or obsessed with me for some other reason, please seek help.

  42. I think the original rationale for the “native born citizen” requirement remains good. It just makes sense for someone to be President who owes no allegiance to any other nation, who is a product of this country, and who has spent enough of his or her formative years here to know and care about the US from deep in the heart.

    I understand that naturalized citizens can care sincerely for the US, too, and that native-born citizens can and often have burned the flag. I agree that some of this nation’s “product” is pretty lackluster, and that some of our immigrants are top flight. I know that some naturalized citizens have been better, truer patriots than some native-born Americans. Still, I very much like the idea that the President — responsible for the national destiny — should ideally be 100% a product of the American experience and gene pool. The US needs to be a country that can “grow its own” top leaders. At very least, the “homegrown” requirement gives us the incentive to do the absolute best for our children because, sooner or later, one of them is going to be the President.

  43. If you’re compulsively propagating xenophobia or obsessed with me for some other reason, please seek help

    Lonewacko? Compulsively propagating xenophobia? That’s a pretty wild accusation. What’s next — accusing joe of disliking the Bush administration?

  44. ” should ideally be 100% a product of the American experience and gene pool”

    ouch!

  45. Lone Wolf,

    How is it applicable? The fact pattern is completely different after all. Fujimori was born in Peru (and he became President of Peru); Arnold was born in Austria (and he became an American citizen). No analogy exists between these fact patterns.

    What would be analagous is a situation where a President born in the U.S., but whose ancestors came from another country. Are you stupidly suggesting that people whose parents or grandparents came from another country shouldn’t be able to run for the Presidency? Because that’s the fact pattern you are analogizing to, not to the fact pattern that concerns Arnold.

    Sometimes I think your xenophobia gets too involved in the firing of your synapses.

  46. James Anderson Merritt,

    Still, I very much like the idea that the President — responsible for the national destiny — should ideally be 100% a product of the American experience and gene pool.

    No trips overseas? No reading of “foreign books?”

    And people say the French are obsessed with their identity.

  47. Dan-
    Condescension won’t make your point it just makes you look like an ass.

    ‘You do not have the right to use peyote.’
    I do, the constitution provides a right to freely practice religion unless the state can show a compelling interest otherwise. I believe this hasn’t been tested in the courts anywhere but Utah.

    ‘If that formulation is too complex for you, here’s an even simpler one:
    A majority of Americans do not think you should be allowed to use peyote.’

    The beauty of a constitutional democracy is it takes an overwhelming majority to abridge my right to freely practice my religion (provided the state has no compelling interest…) through a constitutional amendment. If conservative Utah can legalize peyote for non-native use I find it hard to believe, as you assert, that a majority of Americans believe I should not be allowed to practice a peyote ritual (let alone a overwhelming majority). Either way it is speculation.

    ‘Please explain why discussion of new legislation should be indefinitely delayed pending a successful public relations campaign on behalf of peyote legalization.’

    It is your lame premise, I’m not going to try an explain it. In any event the burden is on you. Explain why there is such a pressing need to convene congress for a constitutional amendment when there are many more egregious violations of liberty. You priorities are fucked.

  48. Jason Bourne

    Thanks for saving me the trouble of replying to the Lonewacko.

    However I’m not sure he gets it. I wonder how many generations he thinks it takes to get racially pure American blood.

  49. John at October 4, 2004 08:41 PM

    With a few exceptions “American expat kids [who] are … children of either technical, military, diplomatic, or business people…” are “natural born citizen[s]…” within the meaning of Article II. Thus George Romnney, born in Mexico to exiled mormons, was eligible to be President.

    Such children may also be claimed as citizens by their birth country. As a US Vice-Consul once explained to me; citizenship is not a choice, it is imposed on you.

    It doesn’t take much to check your status if you’re in doubt.

  50. Oh, I think you just have to draw the line somewhere and being born a US citizen works for me. I’m not worried about racially pure American blood, I just want clean process.

    The only way – the only way – to allow the Terminator and ten thousand hard-working Asian-American businesswomen to run for the highest office would be to amend with a few hundred pages of special rules to prevent people who were naturalized five minutes ago from being prez.. except in special cases where that would be a good thing.

  51. Oh, I think you just have to draw the line somewhere and being born a US citizen works for me. I’m not worried about racially pure American blood, I just want clean process.

    The only way – the only way – to allow the Terminator and ten thousand hard-working Asian-American businesswomen to run for the highest office would be to amend with a few hundred pages of special rules to prevent people who were naturalized five minutes ago from being prez.. except in special cases where that would be a good thing.

  52. “Are there foreign countries that, for instance, John McCain or Jesse Jackson could ask for shelter?”

    I guess Mario or Andrew Cuomo had better forget about ever being prez in your America.

    That’s OK, I don’t like them either. 🙂

  53. I’m not sure Dukakis would have made the cut either. 🙂

  54. Wonk,

    It would be fairly easily actually. Someone who is a naturalized citizen for “X” years can run for President. We could make the figure twenty or thirty years or what have you. That would be a very clean process.

    Isaac Bertram,

    Yes, Lone Wolf’s argument was easy enough to demolish.

  55. Jason Bourne: Of course an American should be well-read and well-traveled, hopefully polyglot. I would have a problem with someone who didn’t know English very well, who was raised outside the country during formative years, and who nostalgically thinks of another nation as his or her home. With luck, however, the voters would determine such qualities during an election and prefer the more “homegrown” candidate.

    Anders, “ouch” me all you want, but remember that I said “ideally,” and no reasonable person expects the ideal to be completely or frequently achieved. Furthermore, what are you extracting from my comment that is “ouchworthy”? Racism? Xenophobia? Hardly, on either count. The American “gene pool” changes daily, as citizens die and new ones take their place through birth or immigration. Since, under the constitution, eligibility for the Presidency begins in a single generation, there’s no mechanism (nor should there be) to systemically or chronically exclude “outsiders.”

    My point is that our “gene pool” and our “American experience” need to be sufficient, in combination, to produce the kind of leaders we need, the equal or better of any others in the world. If we feel like we have to open up the process because we have to recruit from outside America to get “the best,” then I submit that America was going wrong long before that point; we should concentrate on identifying and correcting the wrong turn before we further contemplate foreign recruitment.

    Finally, what is to keep someone from being head of state in two countries? I doubt that any foreign nation would let a native-born American take its helm, “King Ralph” notwithstanding. But if we were to allow non-native born citizens to be President, then isn’t it possible, for instance, for Austria to grant dual citizenship to Mr. Schwarzenegger, and then elect him to high office over there, even as we stampede to the polls to put him in the White House over here? I suppose that is far fetched, but perhaps not even as far fetched as thinking that the Terminator would someday be governor of Cauli-FOHR-nya. Normally, I find it a waste of time to consider extreme hypothetical cases, but recent political developments, especially Schwarzenegger’s rise to power, have made me rethink that policy.

  56. the constitution provides a right to freely practice religion unless the state can show a compelling interest otherwise.

    Which it has. Perhaps not to your satisfaction, but that doesn’t matter; the courts are what matter. You do not have the right to use peyote; it’s as simple as that.

    Explain why there is such a pressing need to convene congress for a constitutional amendment when there are many more egregious violations of liberty.

    Because we live in a democracy. You may feel that your rights are being “egregiously violated”, but neither the courts nor your fellow citizens agree. So you can either (a) throw a temper tantrum about it and insist that nobody else’s rights be dealt with until you get your way or (b) let people lucky enough to have a shot at winning recognition for their rights actually do so.

    You’ve chosen (a). Grow up.

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