Americans often assume the Constitution is perfect. Our founders, however, made no such assumption and therefore made provisions for amending it.
One of the most mischievous clauses in the Constitution is section 1 of article 2:
“No person except a natural born citizen . . . shall be eligible to the office of president . . . .”
Several presidents and major presidential contenders have been accused of violating this requirement: President Chester Arthur, Charles Evans Hughes (later appointed Chief Justice) , Barry Goldwater, George Romney (Mitt Romney’s father) , and most recently John McCain and President Barack Obama.
Though it disqualified various prominent individuals (including Henry Kissinger and
Some wits wondered if people delivered by Caesarian section were eligible.
Today, however, “birthers” and conspiracy theory devotees have made this requirement a major distraction from serious issues of public policy and from the actual strengths and weaknesses of presidential candidates. The requirement also conflicts with the widely shared value of equality before the law by establishing two classes of citizens, those eligible to be president and those not eligible.
Of course there are other constitutional requirements to be president, most notably the age requirement. But this requirement has minimal practical impact since few people younger than 35 are likely to be serious contenders.
Foreign-born individuals who are naturalized citizens might even be more qualified than the average natural born citizen. After all, they have been certified by the naturalization process to have actual knowledge about the American political system. Some recent candidates for president and vice president seemed to have some gaps in this regard.
There is an interesting contrast in the Constitution between the eligibility rules for the presidency and the total absence of any rules for Supreme Court members. For Supreme Court justices there is no age requirement, no requirement that they be lawyers, and no citizenship requirement. Mikhael Gorbachev would be a perfectly constitutional justice, as would a 14 year old like Malia Obama.
Our founders apparently trusted presidents and the senators who confirm judicial appointments to do the right thing. Is there any reason to think we cannot equally trust American voters when they select a president?
It is high time to get going on the necessary amendment. If we start soon, it could be ratified before Barack Obama, if re-elected, completes a second term. Eric Sevareid once compared being president with treading water while swatting bees. This amendment will remove a few bees from the bonnets of conspiracy theorists and reduce the number of bees distracting future presidents from getting their job done.
This article has appeared in the (Adrian, Michigan) Daily Telegram and in the (Portland) Oregonian.