For all the obvious reasons, I hesitate to even enter this discussion. But (famous last words) I can’t help myself.
As you know, high on the list of current right-wing conspiracy theorizing (and sort of a stalking horse for underlying beliefs that President Obama’s race and name make him rather less than fully American) is the claim that President Obama wasn’t really born in Hawaii but was rather born abroad. And because of this, we’re led to believe, he’s ineligible to serve as president and therefore actually is not, as we speak, president.
Now, I don’t want to get into all the claptrap about the birth certificate. Because the whole story is just unadulterated, raw nonsense. What I do want to figure out, however, is a question that’s been rattling around my head for something like a year now. I have never seen any serious argument that the child of an American citizen, even if born abroad, isn’t him or herself a natural born American citizen. Yes, it’s now and again been raised as a topic with a wrinkle of ambiguity in the law; but the issue has never been that people actually believe such children aren’t ‘natural born’, only that it’s a phrase that was never expressly defined and there’s never been an opportunity to have a court review it since there’s never been a case with the relevant set of facts.
If my son Sam had been born while my wife and I were visiting Canada or Egypt, would he be ineligible to serve as president? Would have to apply for him to become a citizen? To have him naturalized? Clearly, not. Everyone agrees he’s automatically a citizen. To indulge this nonsense you have to believe there are two categories of citizen — one that is born a citizen (abroad) but not ‘natural born’ and another that is born a citizen (in the USA) and is ‘natural born.’
How about US military families serving in Europe or South Korea? Are their children ineligible to serve as president? And wouldn’t that be a tad rough on military families if it were true? Remember, this question came up during the last election since Sen. McCain was actually born in the Panama Canal Zone.
As far as I can tell, beside being transparently bogus on its face as to the facts (where President Obama was born) it is irrelevant on the law and the constitution since no one seems to question that his mother was an American citizen at the time of his birth.
Like I said, I know I probably shouldn’t be feeding the wingnuts, even raising the issue. But can’t they at least come up with a conspiracy theory that would have some practical import if it were actually true?
Late Update: Do I think any of this has any practical import? No, not at all. It’s just been driving me crazy that in the context of talking about these ‘birther’ whackjobs, a lot of people are somehow assuming or taking it for granted that a child born to American citizens abroad would not be eligible to serve as president.
Later Update: This appears to be the lacunae the birthers hang their hat on (from the State Department website …)
Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent in Wedlock: A child born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under Section 301(g) INA provided the citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. for the time period required by the law applicable at the time of the child’s birth. (For birth on or after November 14, 1986, a period of five years physical presence, two after the age of fourteen is required. For birth between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, a period of ten years, five after the age of fourteen are required for physical presence in the U.S. to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child.
Their thinking seems to be that since Obama’s mother was just shy of her 19th birthday at the time of his birth, she couldn’t meet the “five after the age of fourteen” requirement, thus necessitating rushing home to get the phony certification of stateside birth to make the eventual run for president possible.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.