For I've Been A Stranger In A Strange Land

I'm sorry to have to bring up the subject of Obama's birth. I don't want to bring it up in the normal way - ie relating to whether or not he's eligible for the presidency. I don't want to do this because the resolution of that is out of our hands and because at this point you can lock two people in a room and have five different opinions.

No, my issue is much bigger. Yesterday I followed a link from Instapundit to Hot Air and found myself in violent disagreement with Allah Pundit's opinion (or rather the point on which he agreed with Jon Meacham from Newsweek.) You see, Allah Pundit agreed with the idea that we should do away with the natural-born requirement for a president. He dismisses it as antiquated and useless.

And I think he is completely, utterly, dangerously wrong.

Years ago I bought Heinlein's book Stranger in a Strange Land without opening it to see the first pages and without noticing the author name (at any rate, at the time I'd read one or two Heinleins but not enough to look for his name.) I did so based on the title and because in Portugal I'd always felt like a stranger in a strange land. I didn't feel I belonged to the land in which I held citizenship until the day of my naturalization ceremony.

Which is why what I have to tell you is going to sound very odd and yet in this case I do believe my unique position gives me unique insight.

I think the natural-born requirement is a necessity, perhaps more now than ever before. There are two reasons for this.

The first reason is that regardless of how American I feel - and have become - I know that I come up across strange blind spots and holes in my perspective, ways of seeing things that would never occur to natural born Americans. Now, I tend to remember those that give me an advantage, of course, but I'm sure that there are others I don't notice and which put me at a disadvantage to natural citizens. No, I can't prove that I've got those blind spots, just like using my perception alone I can't prove that I've mid-range hearing loss. I simply don't hear it, so of course I don't know if it's there. But I can tell from the way other people around me react, in both cases. I simply didn't go to elementary school in the states, didn't grow up with American parents and wasn't immersed in American culture from birth. It's something I can never make up.

There are jokes I won't get, music that will grate on me while other people love it and, I'm sure, policies that seem perfectly reasonable to me that would cause most Americans to run screaming into the night.

The second reason is that we have often in recent years come across naturalized American citizens, with security clearance, who have lived exemplary American lives, and who turn out to be sleepers, planted long ago by some other country (usually China. Sometimes Russia.)

Because the US is an important country and a huge economy, power over which is vital for other countries in the world we simply cannot risk this. If our presidency becomes a free for all open to anyone, other countries will spend uncounted fortunes to capture that beachhead and in effect control us without firing a shot. The chances of a sleeper or even a construct is too great for us to allow into the presidency someone whose curriculum vitae can't be documented and certified by means entirely under the control of the US.

Other countries (and this is one of those things on which I have a different perspective from natural born Americans, who tend to assume other countries are at least as careful with documentation as the US) can be unbelievably - for Americans - casual about paperwork and bureaucracy. A president whose life-trail starts in another country and who might have come of age before becoming an American is a serious risk in the sense that we could never be sure of his being who he said he was or of what motives he might have or what indoctrination he might have received.

Now for those of you who would remind me that Obama was not raised exclusively in the United States and that we have reason to believe he doesn't have American values and that despite all this, he might very well be natural born, so that the requirement doesn't protect us... I know this.

But the founding fathers were wise in their requirement. No, being a natural-born citizen is no guarantee that the adult will have American feelings or American attitudes or any attachment to the people he's supposed to lead. No. The natural-born citizen thing is a minimal requirement to even be CONSIDERED for the running.

More than that couldn't be included in the constitution because... well... quite a few people consider my family's lack of interest in TV unAmerican. Others consider it very American. After that, in other words, opinions vary and it becomes a case of "who shaves the barber" or "who determines who is an American." A dangerous game at best.

We have to be contented with knowing the president was born American.

To determine he grew up American, the American people have to exert due caution and diligence in voting with the help of a free and enquiring press who ferret out the facts for the public to examine.

Those last two the founding fathers could not constitutionally garantee. That's up to us. But let's not muck with what they did secure.

Let's at least make sure future presidents have a good chance of being American in fact as well as in name.

posted by Sarah on 04.18.11 at 12:40 AM


Well, put, Sarah.

I don't see the Constitution being amended to change the natural born requirement any time soon. They used to call it the Schwarzeneggar Amendment... We may have already had one president who was not born here; Chester Arthur. But it was never proven that he wasn't, and probably never will be. Without living witnesses (and even they might lie) it's awfully hard to prove beyond a scientific doubt where someone was born. That's why in most cases we rely on what governments say. Pennsylvania says I was born there, and so did my mom when she was alive. But can I ever really be 100% certain?

at this point you can lock two people in a room and have five different opinions.

Well, as in my case, one person could have five different opinions!


Eric Scheie   ·  April 18, 2011 11:29 AM


I too have five opinions on this. As for where people were born, I suspect both my sons have Portuguese birth certificates because my dad believes all of his grandkids SHOULD be born in Granja and is prepared to edit reality to suit his needs. (I don't know if he did it for mine, but he did it for my nephews who were born in the big city nearby.)
And I was born in a private home, with a midwife. Really, the midwife and my grandmother are dead, so my mom is the ONLY person who can say I was truly born there and of her. My dad and my brother were banished from the room, being you know "people of penis" :)
But I do think documentation is important, even if in some cases it is less than available... (Chester Arthur -- and yes, I have a whole book on him.) I mean, due dilligence is needed... and then s... stuff happens beyond that.

Sarah   ·  April 18, 2011 12:01 PM

And what about people like me? (This may have bearing - or not - on the 'birther' issue.) I am adopted. I have a very nice fake birth certificate specifying that I was born in hospital X (in the US) to Parents Y and Z (both natural-born US citizens by any definition).

BUT my birth cerificate is FALSE. UNTRUE. MADE UP ON THE SPOT. And, by the laws of the state I was born in, I cannot get a true one.

Could *I* run for president? I probably AM natural-born by either standard. But there's no way I could prove it.

Just as well I don't want to run, eh?

Kathy K   ·  April 18, 2011 7:53 PM


I honestly have no idea. I think if it's a in-country adoption you're presumed to be "natural born" regardless. Frankly, that whole fake birth certificate thing gives me the creeps. I ran up against it when I changed my name at citizenship and the state of NC tried to divine my maiden name (instead of asking me) thereby saying my son was born of someone named Sarah D'Almeida which... er... never existed. They kept telling me not to worry my pretty head about it, because when I got citizenship, my birth certificate had been changed... in Portugal. And they actually believed that.

Look, there are going to be injustices of this system, of course. I think requiring "natural born" is unfair even to foreign born children adopted at birth or shortly thereafter. America is all they know. However, because of documentation issues (Yes, hold the irony, we're doing great with Obama on those, aren't we?) it's less dangerous to the nation than having a system that practically begs "Do give us your sleepers, your cunningly created chimeras, take us over, we don't mind..."

Sarah   ·  April 19, 2011 5:27 PM

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