Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Natural Born Citizens

Natural Born Citizens

You gotta love Arizona.  It must harbor one of the wackiest packs of right-wing politicians going, from her Supreme Rudeness Jan Brewer to let’s-house-inmates-in-tents-in-the-sweltering-desert Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Plus ALEC golems and folks for whom Herman Cain’s plan for a double electrified fence edged with an alligator-filled moat would be only a baby step toward controlling ‘illegal aliens.’

Speaking of baby steps:  Arizona has just contributed another wing nut to the extreme right’s all-kinds-of-crazy toolbox.  Its Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, announced a few days ago that he might strike Barack Obama from the Arizona presidential ballot in November.  And that would be because?  There are serious questions about whether he was born in the United States and, thus, is legally qualified to be president. (Late yesterday, he retracted this threat after it received broad national news coverage.)

Similarly, the Iowa GOP Platform (released Monday, May 21, 2012) includes a plank interrogating President Obama’s legitimacy on the grounds that he’s not a ‘natural born citizen.’

Say what?  Weren’t we finished with this birther nonsense? 

Let’s take a short historical detour to consider some Republican presidential candidates and their ‘natural born citizen’ status, the only requirement for the presidency (other than age) imposed by the United States Constitution.

Mitt Romney’s father George ran for President back in the 1960s.  He was born in Mexico, in a Mormon colony established a generation or so earlier by LDS people escaping new strictures against polygamy.  George Romney didn’t come to the United States until he was five years old.   One might think that he would have been unqualified to become the president of the United States.  But when one looks at the Constitution and at legal rulings about what ‘natural born citizenship’ means, one sees that the phrase signifies not only being born on U.S. soil (even to alien parents) but also being born abroad to at least one citizen-parent.  Because his father had not renounced American citizenship, George Romney was a ‘natural born citizen’ – as was Barry Goldwater, born in the Arizona Territory before it became a state, as is John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone to American parents.  There were minor controversies about citizenship legitimacy regarding all three of these White men, but the contestations never went very far.

In the case of the mixed-race Barack Obama, no one disputes that his mother was an American citizen.  Even if he had been born in Kenya, Indonesia, or Paris (where Lowell Weicker – a Republican candidate for president in 1980 – was born), he’d still be a ‘natural born citizen.’  Even if Hawaii had been a territory, not a state, in 1961, he’d still be a ‘natural born citizen.’  That his father was a British citizen (Kenya did not achieve independence until 1963) makes no difference, according to the overwhelming preponderance of federal and state legal decisions.  After all, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison were born to British subjects (and, for that matter, born on British colonial soil).  There’s simply no way that Barack Obama is not a ‘natural born citizen,’ even if his birth certificate were somehow shown to be the product of a clairvoyant master forger.

In most parts of the country, opponents of President Obama have abandoned embarrassingly spurious birther accusations in favor of broader accusations (socialist, unprepared, ‘in his heart not an American’ [that would be Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman last week], or Manchurian Candidate-like empty vessel-ness [that would be Sarah Palin and the entire Fox News Network last weekend]).  Even the stunningly insane Orly Tate, terrifying birther cheerleader and law-suit-bringer, has blessedly sunk into media oblivion (at least for now).  But Arizona bucks the tide and continues the birther crusade.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio is still ‘investigating’ the President’s birth bona fides (using taxpayers’ money).

Honestly, I have no gripe against Arizona.  I’ve visited the state, briefly, and thought that the Hoover Dam was awesome in a man-made way, and that the part of the Grand Canyon I saw was also awesome in a nature-made way.  I can’t recall any conversations with Arizonans in situ, and there were certainly no unpleasant encounters. So when I started digging around the net for information pertaining to an earlier blog (“Pieces of a Conspiracy Theory”) and kept uncovering disconcerting Arizona-grounded right-wing oddities, it surprised me. 

I wish I could offer a cogent theory about why Arizona appears to be such a petri dish for extremist politics.  I can’t.  Nor can I figure out why the otherwise well-behaved state of Iowa turns all rabid prairie dog every four years. Instead, let’s consider what’s behind the contemporary birther phenomenon and why it has the evolutionary lifespan of a cockroach.

Actually, understanding the birther movement doesn’t take much more consideration than stomping on a bug that’s scuttled into one’s house. A small segment of United States citizens are convinced that Black people are inferior to Whites, and that in the normal course of events, no Black man could be elected President without wholesale chicanery. For another (and often overlapping) segment, his exotic name brands Barack Hussein Obama as a foreigner and a Muslim (one maybe related to deceased Iraqi dictators) – who can argue with that?  Particularly after 9/11?  Nomen est omen.

Evidently, President Obama’s first-term tenure has only exacerbated doubts about his legitimacy (in all senses) among a fearful and ignorant minority.  Given the economic problems that still beset this country, one would think that anti-Obamaists would have more productive ways to slam the incumbent.  And, of course, they do.  Yet birther politicians keep popping up.  Sane politicians, journalists, commentators, and average citizens have to play Whack-A-Mole on steroids.  It’s a hard game to win, both because birther Moles surface quickly and unexpectedly and because there are Mole-Moles – less overt birthers who nonetheless tap into birther paranoia, such as Newt Gingrich and his fairly recent comments about President Obama’s ‘Kenyan Mau-Mau’ world view.

It’s the Mole-Mole contingent that’s the most dangerous and in many ways despicable, because they know exactly what they’re doing:  making thinly disguised, phantasmagorical, and cynical appeals to the true-believer Moles.  For example, the ungrounded charge that President Obama is the ‘most divisive’ president in U.S. history (voiced as recently as this week by VEEP-wannabe Marco Rubio, in the middle of his second-fiddle try-out tour) is cross-fertilized by Republican assertions (including Candidate Romney’s) that Barack Obama ‘just doesn’t understand’ American exceptionalism and ‘goes around apologizing’ for his country.  Simply said, he ain’t one of us.

In addition, birtherism is cross-fertilized by charges of ‘posing and preening’ (that would be Republican Governor Chris Christie this past weekend, echoing attacks about the President’s ‘celebrity’).  Such charges conjure up not only ‘inauthenticity’ but also ‘Black Dandyism’ (which, before the Civil War, was outlawed in many Southern States by White legislators who thought that ‘Free Blacks’ – particularly those of mixed race – should be forced to dress, work, and congregate like their enslaved brethren, in order not to confuse god-given racial and citizenship distinctions via behavioral and sartorial uppity-ness). In other words:  President Obama is not a ‘true’ American.  In other words:  he’s a false American.  In other words:  his presidency is based on a trick or a lie or both.  In other words:  Birtherpalooza!

I also believe that there’s a lizard-brain connection between birtherism and anti-birth-control-ism.  And maybe with the entire sexual pucker that’s characterized the Republican Party this year.  (See many of my previous blogs!)  It intersects with White racism rather neatly, as the emblematic racist nightmare is the sexually uncontrollable Black man and the existential threat he poses to White women.  Emmett Till?  Willie Horton?  Birther of a Nation?  (Or re-read Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks.)  The fact that President Obama is a devoted family man uncontaminated by sexual scandal cannot counteract this id-driven specter of illegitimate and threatening sexual power.

Well, I’m a long way from Arizona (except it’s got lizards) and on the verge of psycho-theoretical analytics (would those be like jumbo shrimp?) ill-suited to a general-audience blog (or maybe to anything else).  Obviously, birtherism makes me so crazy that I want to stick my head in the oven.  But as friends have reminded me, I have an electric stove, so I can’t do a proper Sylvia Plath.  All I can do is write about the absurdity, stupidity, and utter illogic of birtherism . . . and urge everybody to keep the Whack-A-Mole mallets at the ready.

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