Sunday, November 14, 2004

De-Arnold the Debate Over Proposed Constitutional Amendment

A group in California, led by supporters of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and clearly with his blessing, tomorrow begins a campaign to amend the US Constitution in order to allow foreign-born citizens to become President.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution currently stipulates that, "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..."

A "natural born Citizen" is one who is born in this country or who is born of at least one American parent.

There have been occasional moves to amend this requirement in the past. I recall that at the zenith of his pop star celebrity, Nixon national security adviser and later, secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, a similar constitutional amendment was floated. (Kissinger, of course, is originally from Germany.)

Frankly, this effort frightens me a bit. While there may or may not be merit to altering the Constitution in this way, it strikes me that doing so simply because of the popularity or charisma of one prominent figure is reckless. trivializing the Constitution.

This is especially the case when one considers that Schwarzenegger's extremely short tenure as governor has, in part because of its duration, been a mixed bag of success and failure. He is an untested figure. The White House isn't a place for people who have not spent a long time at least thinking deeply about the vital issues of our day or engaging in the art and science of leadership.

Schwarzenegger's life story is a compelling one. His charisma is undeniable. He may even be qualified to be President. But to amend the Constitution in a spasm of adulation over his celebrity is a really bad idea.

I would say this. If the proponents of this amendment genuinely want to fight for the principle of allowing naturalized citizens to become President, they ought to make their case without reference to any individual. To do so, they ought to include a simple stipulation in the amendment. It would read something like this:
No naturalized citizen living on the date of this article's adoption shall be eligible for the Office of President.
Only with the addition of such a provision can we have a clear-headed debate on the merits of allowing naturalized citizens to serve in our nation's highest office, a debate absent the hysteria of celebrity.

The Constitution isn't something to be messed with lightly. (A reason that even many conservatives oppose amendments that would define marriage.) It isn't there to indulge the Horatio Alger-fantasies of one attractive public figure or our vicarious desires to participate in them.

There may be merit to allowing naturalized citizens to become President. But before we do so, let's de-Arnold the debate.

1 comment:

FoxWizard said...

Mark, Thanks for stopping by my blog as well. And thanks for the birthday wish, if you must remember it. As I recall, that means you've also got one coming up; but since my memory is failing, I can't remember when. Sorry, I please sinility. Anyway, happy BD.

You comments about the drive to change the constitution by fans of Arnold Schwartzenegger are right on. While often pegged as a flaming liberal on social issues, I tend to be awfully conservative about amending the constitution. Of the hundereds of amendments proposed over my life time, I can think of only one or two I would have supported.

What bothers me most is the tendency to want to amend due to the currently faddish cause celebre'. The Equal Rights Amendment fell under this category, as well as the so-called defense of marriage and now the Schwartzenegger amendments. They each try to advance a currently popular cause without thinking through the long-term impact of such changes.

In my mind, anyway, it seems that amending the constitution should be reserved for correcting deficiencies in the original document (the 14th amendment), correcting glaring injustices, or modifying a structure of government that no longer works the way it was supposed to (The electoral college and senate come to mind.)

Of course, the intention of the founders was to prvent a foreign-born member of the aristocracy from coming to America, spreading wealth and patronage widely, and usurping the office for his own monarchist ends. We can make the argument this is unlikely to happen in the modern world; but can we really? Anyone who has seen "The Manchurian Candidate" can quickly draw the conclusion that the world's most powerful office is already too easily bought; in fact, we've just witnessed the most expensive election in history, with a combined expenditure of the candidates at over one half billion dollars. How secure are we in our belief that foreign governments are not already contribuiting the further their own agendas?

Yes, yes; this is paranoid ranting.

But to say so misses the point that the U.S. Constitution is essentially a paranoid document. It was written with a strong memory and stern conviction of the evils of monarchy and the reality of the role original sin plays in the governments of men. The seperations of powers, with each branch of government serving as a check on the power of the other two, is not only the supreme genius of the constitution, but evidence of its underlying philosophy, as well.

That philosophy, simply stated, is that no one individual can be trusted. Each office must be carefully defined and fenced so that no one is allowed to over-reach and erode the well-being of the Republic.

The restriction of the executive is part and parcel of this staunch belief that the Republic must be defended from usurpation both from within and from without.

Maybe it is time to change this particular clause; then again, maybe we should more closely ponder the founders' intent before rushing to the editing room.

A final note: Nothing can more plainly demonstrate the bankruptcy of the the so-called 'conservative' Republicans than this campaign. The party that petulantly proclaims its love of "traditional values" has given us oceans of fiscal red ink, a runaway military adventurism, pandering to the wealthy and oppression of the lower classes, and now an itch to change the constitution they so love their judges to interpert 'strictly'. Am I nuts, or can't anyone else see the glaring contradicitons here?

Take care Mark. Liked your sermon, btw.