Meeting the Presidential Criteria in the US
Barack Obama has been forced to face several questions surrounding his exact origin of birth since his inauguration as US President, which either reflects a genuine concern or a unwelcome prejudice that lies beneath the surface of the social fabric. As Arizona governor Jan Brewer this week vetoed a bill that would have required presidential candidates prove their eligibility for office, America took a positive step towards challenging the concept of eligibility and also towards focusing their issues on the key issues that currently bight the US. Although other states are moving forward with similar bills with a view to enforcing them, they are less likely to succeed in the wake of Jan Brewer’s decision and the inevitable protests against racial prejudice, repression and a specific interpretation of eligibility. Given the Arizona states reputation for backing more radical legislation concerning immigration, their stance came as something as a surprise to those who dispute the merits of the the so called ‘Birther’ bill, and raised relevant questions concerning both the existing law and exactly which qualities are important when running a country. The Right to Set Presidential Qualification Requirements Of course the US constitution does afford states the right to determine how its representatives are elected, while also allowing them to ensure that their candidate meets existing constitutional qualifications. What it forbids is any state attempting to impose new legislation that forces qualified candidates to refrain from standing for election, as this addition of criteria is unconstitutional and opposes the democratic foundation of the US. What has further confused recent issues is that the relevant article in the US constitution is open to interpretation in terms of being a natural citizen of the United States. The so called ‘Birther movement’ has been cited by potential presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has questioned current leader Barack Obama’s place of birth and eligibility as US president. It leans of existing law and legislation that rules that the nations president must be a natural born citizen of the United States, and has utilized this to draw attention to Mr. Obama’s place of birth and his core nationality. The primary foundation of this argument also formed part of Arizona’s proposed bill, which would require the presidential hopeful to produce a birth certificate with the included signatures of relevant physicians and witnesses, which is not featured on the one presented or owned by Barack Obama. There are two main points to draw from this. The first lies in the interpretation of article 2 of the constitution, which makes reference to the president being a natural born citizen of the US. This is in itself open to conjecture, and has never been clarified by the Supreme Court. While those who follow the ideals of the Birther movement choose to interpret it as meaning that any candidate must be born within the boundaries of the US to US citizens and hold a specifically detailed birth certificate, a more reasonable and liberal interpretation is that any citizen who is born to a US subject or parent should eligible to run for presidential rule regardless of their place of birth. An Underlying Suggestion of Racism The second and far more troubling point concerns the motivation for the proposed bills, and in particular their reference to Barack Obama. While it is true that the suggestion of Donald Trump may have been adopted by those who simply oppose the current presidents rule and policies, it is hard to imagine that it would have come into the public domain were it not for Mr Obama’s race and creed. While there is a clear distinction between race and nationality, these lines have historically been blurred when it comes to oppression or acts of hostility towards ethnic demographics. The UK is an interesting case in point, as the 1970’s saw the emergence of the British National Party who opposed the migration of Asian and Afro-Caribbean families into the country. Despite this, their acts of violence often victimised British born citizens, which proved that their motivation was based on the issue of color of skin rather nationality. While it is fair to say that those who oppose the current president based on race are a distinct minority, the Birther movement is something that both attracts the interest of those with racial prejudice while also setting a dangerous precedent for freedom and equality amongst citizens. Beyond this, there is the feeling that the discussion prompted by the debate has been little more than irrelevant distraction from genuine issues in the US. Not only is this debilitating to the hopes of the nation to move forward, but it also raises questions as to what exactly is important in terms of being eligible to run a nation of the history and size of the United States. Surely an individual who has lived and committed themselves within the boundaries of the US (while seeking education and work to further their political ambitions,) retains the right to aim to be a presidential candidate regardless of their respective birth place or natural citizenship. Amending the Constitution It should be noted that the constitution of the US has formed a wise and sensible bedrock throughout recent history, but there are undoubtedly clauses which are both outdated and irrelevant in the modern age. Just as its text denied political and voting rights to women, so too there are other areas which seem to suggest a generation bias towards specific social demographics, and these reflect the time in which these clauses were set and imposed. Times change as do attitudes, and this pace of change can render existing laws or legislation both redundant and potentially divisive, and so there remains an argument to review the nations constitution for the better of society. By doing this, the ‘natural born citizen’ clause could be clarified and confirmed as required, and set a desired precedent for future instances of citizenship.