A Blip? A Trend? A Sign of the Apocalypse?

|

A propos of nothing, Mrs. Cavanaugh, who only became a U.S. citizen in 1997 but may soon be eligible to run for President, pointed out something I had not noticed: This is the first time since the passage of the 22nd Amendment that the United States has had back-to-back elected two-term presidents.

It turns out to be even more amazing than that: If I remember my presidential history correctly, this is the first time there have been consecutive elected two-termers since 1824, when James Monroe finished up the Jefferson-Madison-Monroe stretch of eigth-year presidencies.

NEXT: Lou's Blues XXIV

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I’d be interested in hearing libertarian opinions on the ‘must be born in America’ rule for Presidential candidacy. This one never made much sense to me.

  2. Pedro-

    I agree. It’s perfectly valid to require a long period of citizenship. I’m agnostic on the precise amount of time that should be required, but given our history, and how much our imported citizens have contributed, I don’t see how it makes any sense to exclude our imported citizens who’ve been here for a long time.

    Besides, as Mo pointed out in another thread, when the 2 main home-grown candidates are awful, and even the home-grown third party candidates are nothing to cheer about (he was referring to Badnarik’s nuttiness), maybe it’s time to widen the recruiting pool.

  3. It’s funny that the website is called amendforarnold&jen, presumably in reference to both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jennifer Granholm, but the site itself never mentions the Governor of Michigan! I mean it’s okay if they just want to promote Arnie. Heck, I’d probably vote for him. But if they just want to support Der Governator why bother mentioning Granholm at all?

  4. Considering how relatively less libertarian so many people from other countries are, I’m in favor of keeping the must-be-born-in-America requirement. That being said, if someone like Ludwig von Mises were living, I’d probably prefer him as president than any of the American-born major-party candidates we’re likely to see in the coming years.

  5. Umm…looking at the Whitehouse.gov website, I think you’re right. I mean, if you don’t count VP’s that become President through death or resignations.

    Of course, we are assuming this one lasts the whole 4 years.

  6. In the early days of the Republic, fear of our leaders being suborned by a foreign power was real, and not necessarily unfounded. There was the infamy of Benedict Arnold, of course, but consider how such “patriots” as James Wilkinson, a confederate of Aaron Burr, took money from the king of Spain. Then there was that diplomat/rabble-rouser “Citizen” Genet. A healthy distrust of foreign adventurers seemed like good sense in those days.

    Prior to the Civil War, one of the political parties vying to supplant the Whigs was the Anti-Masonic/”Know Nothing”/American Party, which was specifically “nativist.” They would have frothed at the mouth were it suggested that a naturalized citizen could become President. Many “Know Nothings” wound up in the Republican tent when the realignment finished, eventually giving us McCarren/Walter in the 1920’s. With the rise of the USSR, who would have been in favor of allowing a Moscow-born sleeper agent from becoming President 40 years after his parents brought him to the USA? Yeah, the probability might have been miniscule, but it isn’t like the foreign-born constituency was large enough to push the issue.

    I predict the “Draft Arnie” movement will sputter, anyway. A full term as California governator will undoubtedly scuff him up too much for the national stage, as has been the fate of most big-state governors post-Reagan. GWB was protected in Texas by that state’s constitution, which actually grants more power to the Lt. Gov.

    Kevin

  7. Change the Presidential requirement to a 35-year *citizenship* requirement. One may assume that if marinating in American culture for 35 years is adequate for the native-born, then it should be adequate for the foreign-born.

  8. Joe M-

    Indeed, very few foreigners are libertarian. Then again, some of our immigrants come here precisely because they do like freedom. Sure, their idea of freedom might not conform to the purist libertarian ideal, but how many native-born Americans have a concept of freedom that conforms to the purist libertarian ideal?

    Finally, and most important, a naturalized citizen who wants to become President will have to survive the same vetting process as any native-born citizen. As a refresher, here it is:

    1) Either exaggerate your service in Vietnam or destroy any evidence that you broke the law while avoiding service.
    2) Hold some sort of prominent office and try not to screw up too badly, or at least pin the blame on somebody else.
    3) Pay hush money to various ex-girlfriends, college buddies, associates from failed business ventures, the doctor who performed the abortion, the arresting officer, and that one guy you hooked up with on the down low.
    4) Insist that you have no interest in running for President during your many trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.
    5) Announce that you have heard the voice of the people, and there is a groundswell of support, and so at the behest of the grassroots you are starting an exploratory committee.
    6) Deliver a speech declaring that corn subsidies are crucial to America’s future.
    7) Become a media darling for a little while. But don’t get over-saturated with coverage or you’ll totally flame out like so many pop stars.
    8) To nobody’s surprise, officially announce your candidacy.
    9) Watch while some other guy becomes the media darling and then overplays his hand.
    10) Adopt some extreme positions that earn you street cred with the party base. Also make sure to raise vast sums of money.
    11) Finish in the top 2 in Iowa by solemnly vowing to support some farm subsidies that the rest of the country doesn’t give a shit about.
    12) Finish in the top 2 in New Hampshire based on your prowess in the pancake-flipping contest.
    13) Win the South Carolina primary by various dirty tricks. At this point you’ve already won the nomination.
    14) Super Tuesday results come in as was fore-ordained, and everybody except Alan Keyes/Dennis Kucinich (circle one) drops out.
    15) Go to the center and insist that you never said any of the things that you said.
    16) Don’t screw up at the convention.
    17) Don’t sigh too loudly during the debates. Play down the expectations. Declare victory no matter what.
    18) Ignore all of the country except a handful of swing states. Do what your pollsters tell you to do.
    19) Remember how you went to the center? That looks good in public, but now it’s down to the wire and you have to inform your core supporters that if the other guy wins the homos will rule the country/old people will be left to die with no health care (circle one). Hope that they get out the vote.
    20) As long as it’s fairly close on Election Day, hire a team of lawyers to fight the recount.
    21) Hope that your electors remain faithful in December. Now might be a good time to send them a fruit basket.
    22) Congratulations! You “won”!

    As long as this process is in place, what could possibly go wrong?

  9. It seems pretty unlikely that such an amendment would pass. I saw a poll on cnn.com where like *89%* of people said that furiners shouldn’t be allowed to run for Prez. I think the current law is ridiculous. Someone could be born here by foreign parents, move back to their country, be raised there, return here and after only 14 (isn’t it?) years they can become president, while someone born of american parents in another country, even if they’re just visiting, can never become president.

    Senseless.

  10. This all reminds me of an anectode from Barbara Branden’s bio of Ayn Rand: someone stood up during a Rand speech and said, “Aw, you’re just a foreigner.” “That’s true,” replied Rand. “I’m here because I love this country, and the freedom it represents. What have you done for your country, other than to be born here?”

    Hear, hear.

  11. andy-

    I’m pretty sure that people born abroad to American parents are, under at least some circumstances, considered natural-born US citizens. I recall that John McCain was born in Panama, yet he was eligible to run for President. (I don’t recall how he wound up being born there, but I would assume it had something to do with his father being a naval officer and the Canal being under US control at the time of his birth.)

  12. Infact the belief that you must be born within the US, while common, is incorrect.
    Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution says you must be a “natural-born” citizen to be eligible for the office of President. Natural-born refers to people who are citizens from the moment of birth. This can either occur by being born on US soil, or by having one or both parents as US citizens at the time of your birth, regardless of your place of birth.

  13. I saw a poll on cnn.com where like *89%* of people said that furiners shouldn’t be allowed to run for Prez.

    Yes, but the question isn’t whether foreigners can run for President, it’s whether or not naturalized citizens should be allowed to.

  14. You remember Schwartenegger, but you’re forgetting Damien Thorne — if this amendment went through, the anti-Christ could actually become President.

  15. “It seems pretty unlikely that such an amendment would pass. I saw a poll on cnn.com where like *89%* of people said that furiners shouldn’t be allowed to run for Prez.”

    Yeah, but they’re only thinking of Mexicans when you ask them about furiners.

  16. I like the idea that people may be motivated to come here, in part because their CHILDREN could be eligible to be President. I think the native-born citizen requirement necessarily involves at least two generations in not only the selection, but also the production, of future Presidents.

    Remember one other thing: Jefferson said that future generations owed nothing to the past. The idea is that, when you come here as an immigrant, you may believe yourself to be an American in your heart, but you might very well have ties of tradition and even law (old debts, old blood feuds, etc.): scores to settle from, or because of, “the old country.” Children born here, however, have no automatic debt or encumberance, and no natural allegiance to any other nation but this one, even if their parents may. While any native born citizen can certainly choose to betray this country on behalf of another, they can also choose to completely repudiate “the old country” in a way that may not be available to or convenient for their foreign born parents. In other words, the impetus to do right by the USA is naturally stronger; the pressures to favor foreign countries naturally weaker. The native-born citizen requirement isn’t a perfect safeguard, but it does seem to serve a purpose and I don’t think it is unreasonable at all. It’s not as if we don’t let immigrants rise to high elected and appointed office now. In the past century alone, foreign-born people have ascended to great power — in influence, effect, and legacy, perhaps greater than some Presidents — even if they never could list their home address as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    As far as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s specific case, I have often wondered whether his Austrian birth would entitle him to dual citizenship. If so, suppose that Hatch’s amendment passed and Arnold became President. Then, on a wave of native-son fervor, he might also be nominated for the head job in Austria (perhaps by being elected to the legislature from his home town, having his Austrian party sweep the elections, and having that party’s leadership fairly salivate at having the “most powerful man in the world” lead THEIR government, too). I know it is implausible (at LEAST as implausible as an actor ever becoming President … ahem). But would it be technically POSSIBLE for Arnold to be the head of the US and Austria at the same time?

  17. When I hear people talk about this debate, I think most people are arguing over the wrong point. Removing the amendment will not automatically place a foreign-born person in the White House, it merely allows them to run. If voters don’t feel that they are a worthy candidate (either because of their foreign-ness or otherwise), then they don’t have to vote for them. The way I hear people discuss this is like talking about gay marriage in a way manner that suggests if society allows it, then we ALL will forced to become married to members of the same sex! (Which I’m pretty sure was a headline in The Onion a while back). I feel that the true “market-based” approach is to repeal the amendment and let the market (i.e. voters) decide the best candidate.

  18. On the other hand, Scott, the “market” appears to have given us an incredibly high incumbent retention rate, despite the public’s near universal tendency to rank politicians just under used-car salesmen in integrity and admirability (except in times of war, of course, when we must all rally behind “our leaders”). Let’s not even talk about the damage done to the country by the semi-permanent ruling class.

    These sad facts have led me to embrace term limits and other seemingly arbitrary limitations on eligibility for or tenure in the public sector, including the native-born citizen requirement for the Presidency. I don’t pretend that such limits provide is a perfect solution, but having seen the results both ways, shaking up the halls of power on a regular basis seems the better approach.

  19. Good point about term limits, James (which are a restriction on the freedom of running for political office which I do at least partially support, for reasons familiar to you and others). Although I don’t really feel that restrictions based on place of birth are quite the same thing.

  20. The basic problem with attempts to amend the Constitution to allow naturalized citizens to become president is this: despite all disclaimers, they are always made with one particular candidate in mind. Hence, everyone opposed to that candidate opposes such an amendment. In the 1970s for example, when Henry Kissinger was at the peak of his prestige, there were calls to amend the Constitution to let him run. (Which, of course, guarantted that there would be no such amendment.) Today, no matter what is said about Jennifer Granholm, everyone knows that the real purpose is to let Arnold run–and for that reason there will be sufficient numbers of both Democrats and socially conservative Republicans to block the amendment.

    My proposal is to have the amendment take effect only many years after its adoption, so that no currently visible (and controverisal) politician is likely to benefit.

    BTW, the example that the Founders probably had most in mind (with respect to their fear of foreign influence) was Poland, where Russia, Prussia, and Austria were always trying to get one of their respective favorites elected King.

  21. Like David said, don’t forget Poland!

  22. (I don’t recall how he wound up being born there, but I would assume it had something to do with his father being a naval officer and the Canal being under US control at the time of his birth.)

    He wound up being born there, probably, because that’s where his mother was.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the resident population of the United States, projected to 11/22/2004 at 12:25:24 AM EST is

    294,810,709

    They do not include overseas Armed Forces, their dependents, or other U.S. citizens residing outside the United States. (But they do include resident aliens.)

    So. Let’s assume (wild guess) that there are about 100 million natural-born Americans who meet the Constitutional requirements.

    You mean to tell me that out of 100 million people, there’s no one qualified to be president? We have to outsource? The best you could come up with is Bush?

    And you mean to tell me you’re proposing changing the Constitution because some actor is popular???

    Wow.

    If you feel you must amend the Constitution, stick something in there which says “The president shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States'” and “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”.

    And then hold him to his promise.

  23. “You mean to tell me that out of 100 million people, there’s no one qualified to be president?”

    Okay, so why don’t you run next time?

  24. The two-term president situation is actually historically unique, because this is the first time that there have been back-to-back two-termers from different parties.

  25. “A Canadian-American” (cute handle, that) wrote:

    “Change the Presidential requirement to a 35-year *citizenship* requirement.”

    That’s getting there, I think. Why not a 35-year citizenship AND residency requirement? Military service overseas could count toward residency, as might time spent overseas working as a high-level executive of an American company. The candidate’s residency should meet residency requirements for his state at the time of nomination (i.e. no campaigning from one’s villa in Tuscany).

    My dad would meet this requirement, incidentally. Would I vote for him? Not on your life. 🙂 But I might vote for someone else who met these requirements.

    As has been pointed out before, any perceived lack of loyalty on the candidate’s part might go fatally against him. What’s the worst that could happen? That we have candidates actually campaigning about how true to the Constitution and the American Way they will be while in office? Throw me in that briar patch, citizens.

  26. It’s arguable whether or not it counts, but Lincoln and Grant were each elected 2 times in a row.

  27. Has there ever been a constitutional challenge to the “Natural-Born Citizen” clause? I remember back in law school some idle class/professor discussion of whether the due process provisions of the 5th and 14th Amendments effectively nullified the original constitutional provision as an interference with personal liberty. Granted there’s a certain hostility to “judge-made law” at present, but it seems like a more plausable approach than rallying a two-thirds majority of states or legislators effectively to endorse Ahnold’s candidacy.

  28. James, in regard to your question about whether Arnie could be both President of the United States and Prime Minister of Austria simultaneously, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits an officer of the U.S. government from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” unless Congress approves. Even if Congress is willing to repeal the “native-born” requirement, I highly doubt they would be willing to approve a President also serving as the leader of another country.

  29. andy/thoreau:

    I can confirm that US citizens born abroad are eligible for the presidency. I was born in Saudi Arabia, of all places (father working for oil company), but have a birth certificate that declares me a natural-born US citizen. I’m not naturalized, so I can run for President. Which should make you all terribly afraid.

  30. Pedro hijacked this thread, but, as Martha says, “That’s a good thing.”

    As an anarchist, I don’t believe the Presidency nor the Constitution are necessities, so I shouldn’t be commenting, but I always think it’s worthwhile to push the envelope of what passes for political thinking.

    Why shouldn’t the pool of candidates consist of those who’ve run nations successfully? As libertarians, would we have a problem with the US being run by the same guy running the best-run countries in the world: Ireland, Hong Kong, New Zealand?

    James Anderson Merritt had a related thought:
    “But would it be technically POSSIBLE for Arnold to be the head of the US and Austria at the same time?”

  31. The main reason I’d be against an amendment is because it would be an amendment. It’s not really something amazingly pressing, it’s not removing any natural rights to limit the POTUS this way, and it would be a big giant argument. Another reason I don’t like it is because everyone who proposes it has a specific person in mind, and I’m not a big fan of re-writing the Constitution just cause someone’s popular at the moment.

    I don’t have any real arguments against the idea besides the fact that it’s an arbitrary rule in an arbitrary contest that isn’t amazingly unfair or punitive, so there’s no real need to change it.

  32. So, SR, you seem to be saying that the Constitution WOULD permit the Governator to become Presidentinator under the scenario I described earlier, provided that the Congress approved. As unlikely as it might be, then, Arnold could be the top man in Austria and the top man in the US simultaneously.

    Does anyone know whether people who have been given “titles” or “offices” in other countries prior to achieving federal office have needed to give up those titles or resign those offices, in order to serve in our government? Suppose, for example, that the Hatch amendment passed, Arnold was elected Presidentinator, and in the weeks after the official Electoral College vote, but before January 20th, he became head man in Austria, thus guaranteeing that he already HAD the foreign office before being sworn-in as US President. We might normally expect someone to resign the foreign job, but in this case, would he have to? Would he still need Congressional approval to keep both jobs? Hmmmm…..

  33. As libertarians, would we have a problem with the US being run by the same guy running the best-run countries in the world: Ireland, Hong Kong, New Zealand?

    It is frightening, but that thought has often crossed my mind – usually while I’m trying to figure out a good way to privatise money.

    If I ever found a country with a population of more than one (at present I’m a citizen of the Autonomous Republic of Raymond), I’ll hire the guy for the presidency who sends in the most attractive bid.

  34. I have friends who just adopted a baby girl from China. She is less than a year old. I can’t see why she shouldn’t have the same right to be President as someone who had the good fortune to be born in this country.

  35. As someone who was born here but who’s parents are from a different country, and who knows a lot of immigrants, I can state that they just don’t get America. They do really well, work hard, and some become quite well off, but they really do not understand this country.

  36. Me:I saw a poll on cnn.com where like *89%* of people said that furiners shouldn’t be allowed to run for Prez.

    Dan:Yes, but the question isn’t whether foreigners can run for President, it’s whether or not naturalized citizens should be allowed to.

    That was my point. naturalized citizens ARE foreigners. the question actually was “should ARNOLD be allowed to run for president.

  37. Hey this “Let’s-water-down-the-Constitution” game is fun.

    Why stop with picky little things like natural vs naturalized? C’mon, we’ve already decided to let women vote and hold office, and we’ve eliminated the requirement of property ownership to be able to vote, we got rid of poll taxes, so let’s drop that stupid age requirement, too. If we though a really qualified teenager could be president, well why not? (Which really looks anachronistic when you consider that in Chicago they let the dead vote.)

    Hey, come to think of it, my Corgi is one smart doggy. Probably has more common sense that the average Nader voter… hmmmmm.

  38. That was my point. naturalized citizens ARE foreigners. the question actually was “should ARNOLD be allowed to run for president.

    I still find that hard to believe. Support for an amendment has hovered around the 30-40% range in most of the polls I’ve seen, and presumbly there are even more people who have no problem with foreigners but are superstitious or stubborn about amending the Constitution.

  39. Following Slainte’s lead….

    Prez Rickard in `08!

    http://www.toonopedia.com/prez.htm

    We need someone to stop the Max Frost juggernaut.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063808/

    Kevin

  40. There are a lot of other elements in the Constitution that could use changing before the president’s natural-born citizenship requirement. More interesting in the post was Tim Cavanaugh’s noticing how long it’s been since there were two consecutive elected full-term two-term presidencies. Well, don’t jump the gun on this. One of the major checks on this democratic artifact has been the assassin’s bullet. Without a assassins, certainly the Lincoln-Grant presidencies and the Eisenhower-Kennedy presidencies would have made that stretch. But kill a president, and that ruins the run. Could happen now, too. After all, unlike the Jefferson-Madison-Monroe run, this stretch is not exactly an Era of Good Feeling.

    And then there is always the possibility of a stray potato chip that may still upset the current stretch.

  41. “They do really well, work hard, and some become quite well off, but they really do not understand this country.”

    Well, we know for a fact Bush, even with the help of Cheney, Rummy and Rice, doesn’t understand other countries. So how else are we gonna meet in the middle?
    If a foreigner were head, simultaneously of the US and a foreign country, there would be conflict, but it would be beneficial conflict.

  42. I’m tempted to agree with Dan and say that there’s no way that this will pass. Then again, let’s look at some of the other unbelievable political events that happened over the past several years:

    I never dreamed that the House Republicans would impeach an incredibly popular President after losing seats in the 1998 midterm election. And yes, I know, it was about the perjury, not the sex, but a heck of a lot of voters thought it was about the sex, and so the GOP lost House seats. But they still went through with it. Unbelievable.

    I never thought that we’d actually witness a popular vote/electoral vote split, but we did. And I never thought that the popular vote winner would be the guy facing a strong spoiler (well, Nader was strong by spoiler standards, pulling 3%). And yes, I know, the electoral vote is the only thing that matters.

    I never thought that the Supreme Court would agree to hear the appeals in the Florida recount, but they did. (I figured that they’d stay as far away as possible from that hot potato.)

    I never thought Arnold Schwarzen…ah, hell, I can’t spell it…I never thought that the Terminator would become the governor of California but he did.

    So I’m not prepared to discount the possibility that this will somehow pass.

  43. Umbriel: As far as I know there has been no such lawsuit but somebody did once propose the idea in soc.history.what-if: http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=bf1gsh02kn7@enews2.newsguy.com

  44. Without a assassins, certainly the Lincoln-Grant presidencies and the Eisenhower-Kennedy presidencies would have made that stretch. But kill a president, and that ruins the run. Could happen now, too. After all, unlike the Jefferson-Madison-Monroe run, this stretch is not exactly an Era of Good Feeling.

    Well, no, it couldn’t happen now even if President Bush were assassinated. This is the first time since Monroe that an elected second-termer has followed an elected second termer. That record stands no matter what happens in the second Bush administration (which, for the record, I wish the very best of luck).

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.