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Arnold For President
Arnold and/or any other foreign-born Americans who want to run. An LA Times editorial rightly points out that the prohibition against the foreign-born running for president comes out of the founding fathers' fears of a foreign king and an ensuing foreign takeover.

The editorial rightly suggests amending the Constitution to be more in keeping with the times: We're a nation of immigrants, many of whom are more exemplary and loyal to their adopted country than people born here.

I'm reminded of a volunteer I met on election nite at Schwarzenegger headquarters (I was there for Pajamas Media), who'd emigrated from Russia. She'd never missed voting -- couldn't even imagine it -- in the 40-some years she'd been in the USA, and appreciated this country in a way few Americans seem to.

Here's the essential excerpt from the LA Times piece:

Supporting Schwarzenegger for governor (we did) does not necessarily lead to supporting him for president (we don't — yet). But why should Californians have their governor sidelined from the race? And why can't voters across the country be entrusted to decide for themselves whether the governor of California is sufficiently "American" to earn their vote? It's insulting, really.

Yes, the nation will manage without Schwarzenegger at the helm. But his situation is a reminder of this constitutional flaw. The issue is also important at a symbolic level. It isn't that there aren't enough qualified "natural-born" Americans to run for the highest office in the land, it's that there is an asterisk attached to the citizenship of many great Americans.

Think about it. Someone could come to the U.S. at the age of 2 from Britain or China or Peru, become a citizen, join the military, win a Medal of Honor, cure cancer — but that person would still not be "good enough" for the White House.

One of the exceptional qualities of this meritocratic nation of immigrants is its sense of possibility. Americans like to tell their kids that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up — including president. But for millions of patriotic Americans, the Constitution says otherwise. The idea of citizenship only as a birthright is a decidedly foreign notion. And the idea that voters cannot elect as their leader a naturalized citizen is decidedly undemocratic.

That's why California's representatives in Washington should support a constitutional amendment. If the United States is a nation of immigrants, California is a state of immigrants. And California leaders who want to hold on to the 18th century prohibition against naturalized citizens running for the presidency are not doing a very good job representing their constituents.

Posted by aalkon at January 15, 2007 1:52 PM

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So - how do we keep foreign influence from causing this noble immigrant from doing what they want? We already have some bias, much of it unhealthy, in the direction of England through a "heritage" thing and Israel due to lobbyists pulling on guilt.

We've already had problems with people buying Presidential favors and election resource. Does anyone remember John Huang?

What keeps a foreign government from putting "their guy" in place?

For a domestic example -- do you really think Hillary is a New Yorker?

Posted by: Radwaste at January 15, 2007 5:19 AM

Beware of editorials so spiritless that the reader needs an explicit reminder to:

> Think about it.

Posted by: Crid at January 15, 2007 5:38 AM

I think Hillary has been a fantastic senator for New York. If Schwarzenegger had run against Bush I would've voted for him with some optimism (instead of feeling like I had to hurl in voting for Kerry).

What keeps a foreign government from putting "their guy" in place?

The voters.

Hmmm, then again, they elected the current clown in the White House...twice. Maybe you've got a point. (I'm kidding -- I think this law is outdated...even if the editorial is written with writing that reads like a mouthful of sawdust goes down.)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2007 6:51 AM

I've often noticed that foreign-born citizens are more American than most Americans. Case in point is a Polish immigrant I worked with a few years ago. He really valued our democracy because he'd seen firsthand the horrors of a closed political system. The rest of us take it for granted far too often.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at January 15, 2007 8:00 AM

Electoral college first, natural-born citizen second.

Posted by: meshaliu at January 15, 2007 8:00 AM

And, while we're at it, let's do away with the electoral college. Popular vote, please.

I heard the ending snippet of a Joan Rivers performance on TV yesterday. At the very end, she asked people to say something like, "We are so lucky to be Americans." Now, I'm no fan of the audience-as-chorus thing, or sappy pronouncements, but what struck me was how hesitant people were to say that. Perhaps they share my hatred of "all together now!" But, I think people think it's uncool to be patriotic. People born here, who take being American for granted, that is.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2007 8:04 AM

"We're a nation of immigrants"

This is a highly misleading cliche. The vast majority of Americans (American citizens) are native-born. Whereas my grandfather was an immigrant, I'm not, in the same way that he was a banker but I'm not.

The law prohibiting an immigrant from attaining the presidency cites the legalistic, concrete, definition of immigrant status - being "naturalized" into citizenship. The cliche you extoll cites an abstract, and inaccurate, definition of the term. Laws - and changes made to them - should not be predicated on such flights of fancy.

On a related note, the founders of our country were not immigrants, either. They did not integrate themselves into the society they found on these shores. They destroyed said society. They were conquerors - no more immigrants than was Columbus or Pizarro.

Posted by: JS at January 15, 2007 8:15 AM

"They did not integrate themselves into the society they found on these shores. They destroyed said society."

Your point being... what? That we should keep up this fine tradition?

Amy, is it really so oppressive that Arnold can only ever reach the office of Secretary of State, the second most powerful position in government?

Posted by: Hasan at January 15, 2007 8:57 AM

While I am sorry that arnold, and other potential political leaders will suffer at not being able to be president of the united states, at least their kids can.

I don't agree that this law is outdated. I think it is there to protect the United States as an independant entity.

I do not think that someone who was born in another country could hold the office of president without some pressure from their native land for special favors. No matter how noble they may be, other countries are not so noble. And what if they aren't so noble?

Though I'm not sure they could get elected, I don't know if the American people have progressed to that point.

Posted by: Shinobi at January 15, 2007 10:13 AM

"I think Hillary has been a fantastic senator for New York."

Okay - but where is she from? Who paid her campaign bills? Why do military people continue to detest her? Why was she booed at MSG?

Why did John Huang hide, while the public was fed a sex scandal to cover his trail? What interest in our government do Buddhist monks have? If voters are such a powerful force, why in hell don't they notice the Constitution except when it gets in their face, personally?

Here's another giggle for you: Barney Frank sponsored the repeal of the 22nd Amendment - the limitation on consecutive terms a President may serve - while Mr. Clinton was in office. Want to see that passed today?

Please: never fail to recognize that laws apply even when you do not want them to - if you have not thought of the unintended consequences, you will be screwed. That's how your rights have been abridged by people seeking security, and by others seeking their own advancement at the cost of others. It's a comprehensive practice, requiring continuous thought or the tendency to be skeptical. Key your thoughts to this initial one: how many laws are really needed?

Posted by: Radwaste at January 15, 2007 11:16 AM

I'm not for term limits, whether for the current clown in the White House or some previous clown. Let the people decide.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2007 11:19 AM


Well said.

For those that oppose the idea, let me put it this way: I'm a naturalized US citizen born in Taiwan, and Taiwan's constitution doesn't have such a clause, and Taiwan is not quite a model of democracy as US would think of itself, so what are you afraid of? Shouldn't US constitution live up to its reputation, equal rights to all citizens?

The qualification of 'natively born' in US constitution is counter to the founding principles of US, which is a nation built upon shared ideas(the constitution), not family background, ethic group, religion, etc. Dividing citizens into two 'classes', natively-born and naturalized, may be necessary at the time, but no fact to support it now. If you really think there should be different classes of citizens, say it loud and clear, and don't mislead people into thinking this is the land of free people.

Look at G. Bush. He is as American as can be, but does that make him good for American? Does his loyalty lie with his gangs, or with us? Doesn't he just say he will escalate Iraq war, even if it's unpopular? This is US as close to monarchy as it can get - ignoring the will of people just because he can. And all from true-blue American. So much for loyalty to US based on 'native-born' status.

Posted by: mettayogi at January 15, 2007 11:29 AM

Imagine if Arnold did run --

Would the armed forces prefer to answer to a man with a German accent, or to a man (Barack Obama) whose middle name is Hussein?

I agree it's silly to disqualify people from running for president based on where they were born (unless we were to insist that ONLY the foreign-born can run -- that way we would have a guarantee they had at some point traveled somewhere). On the other hand, running for president would be such a monstrous ego-trip for an already dangerously ego-driven Arnold it might just make the rest of us want to throw up for about four years.

Let him run California (rather well, as of about a year ago) and work behind the scenes to refashion the Republican Party -- that's quite enough ego for him.

Posted by: modestproposal at January 15, 2007 12:27 PM

When I see a plea to "let the people decide", it makes me ill. The public is a gullible, superstitious and easily-frightened lot.

"Let the people decide"? Would this be the same people who could not figure out how to punch a hole in a card with a stick to indicate their vote? (Red herring alert: that wasn't the issue in the election.) Would that be the people who could not determine whether the Moon, Venus, Mars or the Sun revolved around the Earth on a recent episode of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Would that be the ones bending over for the TSA because they want to fly on a plane? Would that be one of the millions who are here illegally? How about those who think an "international" court would be a magical dispenser of justice? How about those - this has to be a favorite - who think that their invisible friend in the sky will fix things as they pull the lever?

A certain number of safeguards are necessary so that the few who have the knowledge of threats to the nation don't abuse their powers. Thus, the Constitution - which still remains unread by the bulk of the people.

Got a beef about something in the Constitution? I suggest you forget about who you CAN elect and focus on who you DID: the Congressional parasite allowing Iraq action to go on without a Congressional declaration of war. It's their job, they're not doing it, and you're so easily distracted you'll go on about something else.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 15, 2007 1:21 PM

Yes, Rad, I think this should be a monarchy and I should be queen. But, as long as it's a democracy, the "let the people decide" thing is the rules of the game. The best we can do is try to persuade them to decide wisely.

P.S. I have a very cute Cato Institute pocketbook copy of the Constitution. Get yours here, $4.95, total bargain:

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2007 2:10 PM

Rad wrote: "When I see a plea to 'let the people decide', it makes me ill. The public is a gullible, superstitious and easily-frightened lot."

Rad, this is exactly the kind of attitude that repeatedly leads to liberal defeat, '06 mid-terms notwithstanding. Given the choice, the people for whom you have such contempt will always choose the candidate willing to trust them. Its a basic premiss that Republican blow-holes often cite: "Democrats don't think you know what's best for you." Well done proving Rush and the rest right.

Amy, I disagree with the idea of eliminating the electoral college. These days, the electoral college has evolved to the point where, for all intents and purposes, it is a popular vote. Back in the day, you had very little assurance that voting for John Doe, Elector would mean a vote for Lincoln.

Its because of the electoral college that the allegations of chicanery and voting fraud can be isolated and dealt with locally. Imagine, and cringe if you will, at the prospect of a nation-wide outcry for a 2000 hand count of every hanging and dimpled chad. The Founding Fathers did.

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 15, 2007 2:30 PM

As mettayogi pointed out: one's birthplace is not necessarily their identity or loyalty. GWB lives in an alternate reality.

Posted by: Dave at January 15, 2007 3:53 PM

"for all intents and purposes, it is a popular vote."

Well, it wasn't last time, was it? Time before that, some judges got to choose for us. Now we aree suffering the consequences.

Posted by: Jennifer Emick at January 15, 2007 4:00 PM

Jennifer -

2004 popular election results, as reported by CNN -

Bush - 62,040,606
Kerry - 59,028,109

As for 2000, it wasn't "some judges" that decided the result, it was Florida's electorate, as verified by an oft-ignored post-election survey of all cast Fla votes, that produced Bush as the winner. People like to over-dramatize the "Constitutional Crisis" that the 2000 election turned into, but the truth is that a very careful system of checks and balances would have ensured that a slate of duly-authorized Fla electors would have been sent to Washington by the state legislature even if every actual vote had spontaneously combusted. There's a reason we vote in November and take office in January. Because we need to time to verify the results. Which we did. Legally. Get over it. Bush won. Twice.

As for how we are "suffering" for it, that is your opinion, but I ask you to look around and remind yourself that the President is hardly alone in policy-making. Somehow America soldiers on pretty well from Washington on down to City Hall regardless of who resides in any particular office. Who will you demonize in '08 when your dreaded and feared GW Bush is no longer an option?

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 15, 2007 5:21 PM

Snakeman, the 'verification' cam out overwhelmingly for Gore, even after Bush & his cronies destroyed thousands of votes and potential votes. But it was the US Supreme court who decided the election.

Posted by: Jennifer at January 15, 2007 9:30 PM

Actually, Jennifer two separate independent studies by the (one by the National Opinion Research Center and one by a consortium of newspapers including USA Today and Knight Ridder) both concluded that a slim Gore win would only take place if so-called "overvotes," (ballots indicating more than one presidential choice) were included. This standard was never requested by the Gore camp. Rightly so, as these are illegal votes.

At best, you could argue that a number of different scenarios, different outcomes would result. Statistically speaking, Florida was an exact dead heat. Any further disputes would have likely resulted in delaying the certification of slate of electors past the Constitutional deadline. At that point, the slate would have been selected by the largely Republican state legislature . . . exactly as the Founders imagined would happen should the popular vote be unable to decisively deliver an undisputed victor. See how elegant the system is? In any event, GWB was hardly appointed by judicial fiat as you would have us believe.

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 15, 2007 10:17 PM

Maybe not eliminate the electoral college completely, but adjust it; eliminate the "Winner take all" for each state and divide electoral votes proportionally.

And allow naturalized citizens to be eligible to be President after being her 35 years. That's how long a native born citizen lives here before being eligible, and would allow Arnold to run relatively soon.

Posted by: Jon Tyken at January 16, 2007 1:39 AM

It's not a democracy and never was.

Posted by: MarkD at January 16, 2007 12:09 PM

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