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November 22, 2004

Amend, but not for Arnold

By Byron LaMasters

Unlike the Federal Marriage Amendment, the recent proposals to amend the constitution to allow naturalized American citizens to run for president is a worthy idea looking into. For once, I think that Orrin Hatch is on to something. I agree with most of what Andrew wrote on the subject two months ago. My problem is not with the concept, but with the idea of amending the constitution to benefit one particular person. In the eyes of its supporters, this amendment seems to be less about a its merits, than it is about the political career of Arnold Schwarzenegger. All you have to do is take a look at the two leading supporter sites:

Amend for Arnold and Amend US.

This is also an issue where Democrats can easily get trapped. Patrick Ruffini, back to blogging after his stint as the official Bush / Cheney 2004 re-election blogger outlines an approach for Republicans to take on the issue. I'm personally doubtful that Republicans can pull off unanimity in support of the amendment. At the very least, Republicans will have to do a lot of convincing of the anti-immigrant and social conservative (why would most social conservatives support an amendment making it possible for the GOP's most popular social liberal to run for president) wings of the party. Still, Democrats have largely been silent on the issue -- something that poses problems for us. If Republicans are smart, they'll turn this into a campaign about supporting immigrants, and enlist prominent Hispanic elected officials and donors to bankroll the campaign. They'll turn this into a wedge issue to paint Democrats not supporting the amendment as anti-immigrant. And frankly, there's no reason Democrats should be running from this issue. After all, we've historically been the party of immigrants.

So how do we balance the concerns of supporting immigrants and of not wanting an amendment to our constitution designed to benefit one particular person? I see an easy solution that would take the politics out. As long as this amendment is seen as benefiting one politician or one party or another, there's no way that it will pass. There's no way it gets two-thirds majorities in both houses and three-quarters of the state legislatures if this is seen as a partisan issue. So take the politics out of it.

Pass an amendment that allows naturalized American citizens to run for president that are born after 34 years prior to the amendment's enactment. For example, should the amendment pass in 2005, any naturalized citizen born after 1971 would be eligible to run for president (assuming they meet the other requirements). Thus, no current politician would benefit, but within a few decades most leading non-U.S. born politicians would be eligible to run for president. My year suggestion may sound hopelessly arbitrary, but I think that it's nescessary in order to remove politics from this otherwise worthwhile amendment.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at November 22, 2004 09:08 AM | TrackBack


What a dumb idea. America is a nation. It isn't the United Nations. We are nationalists, not internationalists. If the result of the last election hasn't taught some people a lesson, don't worry there is more where that came from. How many Mexican presidents were American? How many Chinese presidents were natural Americans? Somebody is trying to sell our birthright. Don't worry, there are always the next elections to set all these oh so internationalist politicians right. Bill Clinton was right when he wrote on his blog that politicians aren't citizens of the world. They are Americans. Act like it!

Posted by: Rancor at November 22, 2004 09:35 AM

Dumbass. That site is a parody.

Posted by: Byron L at November 22, 2004 09:43 AM

You can pass the amendment after Ahnold's streoid use catches up with him.

Posted by: Tim Z. at November 22, 2004 11:03 AM

The greater concern would not be where someone was born, but rather, are they a "naturalized" American in the emotional/intellectual sense. I might, for argument's sake, suggest that someone have LIVED in the US for 34 years.

What, i personally think, would be more important is that someone "grew up" in the US. That has more to do with having an American "feel" for what the country might need, whether it be from a conservative or liberal standpoint (or something else).

If, say, someone had to be a US resident by the age of 5, in my mind that does several things: a) the formative years are spent in the US; b) because of the minimum age for president, it covers the base of having lived in the US an extended period of time; and, c) most importantly, allows something of a lifetime of getting to know the country from some perspective, whether it be as an assimilated immigrant, as republican, democrat, minority, majority, outcast, incast, barrio-resident or hamptons-ite. All of those things are more important than the particular site of birth.

The opposite end of the spectrum, and what i would fear most (but think most unlikely anyway) is a loophole so large that foreign politicians might be recruited from their home countries, having nothing but a distant TIVO-view of what the country is about.

Where Schwarzenegger falls in the continuum is unclear to me, except that i feel from reading him that he doesn't yet, after his many years here, have a gut feeling for what America IS in all its great variety (and is why, i think, he scares we wee liberals). Why else is he a republican to begin with?

Posted by: tony gallucci at November 22, 2004 08:16 PM
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