Third Party & Independents Archives

A Change Whose Time Has Come

When I was a kid, I would always talk to everyone that would listen about politics. My fellow students would sometimes ask me, “I bet you want to be president some day, right?” Even at that young age I knew a little something about the Constitution, and I would explain to them that I could not be president because I was not born in this country (nor was I in the United States at the adoption of the Constitution). Recently we even had a candidate post on WatchBlog that he wanted to run for president, and I had to politely tell him that he could not serve as president under our constitutional rules.

The provision in our Constitution that bars foreign born people from running for president is a remnant of our early system, when our founders feared that powerful and rich kings would basically place their own agents in the presidency (some even pushed for denying foreign born people the vote- luckily that was not adopted). They thought the people would not know anyone outside out of their own state, and would be easily tricked by rich foreigners. Whatever the merits of those arguments once were, they have no validity today. Our democracy is mature enough that no foreign country is going to buy the election of one of its “people” to the presidency- no one would even seriously still make this argument. Basically, this provision is still in our Constitution because of inertia- that is, its in the constitution already and the public has not been motivated enough to pass the high threshold for constitutional amendment.

Those of us who want to see this remnant of the past, this relic of nativism, struck from our constitution have the chance now. With Arnold becoming governor of the largest state in the union and making some noise about this issue, it is time to seize their opportunity. Orin Hatch has proposed this amendment, with broad support of people from Barney Franck to Darrell Issa. John Conyers has proposed a similar bill in the House.

Our country is one of immigrants: nearly 1 in every 10 people living in America is an immigrant, we have had two foreign born secretaries of state, and almost all of us can trace our roots in this country to just a couple of generations. There is no reason to constitutionally exclude such an important and large part of our population from seeking the nation’s highest office. With good people shrinking from wanting to run for president, it is not wise to limit our field of choices based upon a nativism remnant embedded in our constitution.

Posted by Misha Tseytlin at February 24, 2004 12:13 AM