12/03/04 — The presidency: Does ‘foreign-born’ ban need to be reviewed?

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The presidency: Does ‘foreign-born’ ban need to be reviewed?

The Founding Fathers stipulated in the Constitution that presidents of the United States be native-born citizens. Today, there is a move afoot to drop the requirement and allow naturalized citizens to hold the nation’s highest office. One version of the notion is to limit the opportunity to citizens who have been naturalized for a minimum of 20 years.

Interest in the idea surfaced — or at least attracted widespread attention — after Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger electrified much of the nation with his speech at the Republican National Convention.

Schwarzenegger, of course, gained worldwide recognition as a body-builder, movie star and then governor of California. While he is a Republican, he is married to a Kennedy.

Many Democrats grouse, understandably, that the proposal to amend the Constitution to remove the native-born prerequisite is aimed specifically at allowing Schwarzenegger into the arena. And that thought unquestionably has entered the heads of some Republicans.

That notwithstanding, it is an issue that might deserve some review.

The nation historically has proudly proclaimed itself as being the “melting pot” where people from all over the world have come to seek a better life. An important part of this involves being accepted by fellow citizens. Except for the American Indians, all of us are products of immigration.

Down through history, immigrants and their families have become some of our most productive citizens in the fields of industry, invention, science, medicine — as well as blue collar labor.

Naturalized citizens also have served this country well in all our international military conflicts.

Once a person is naturalized, there apparently are no limitations to his or her opportunities of citizenship. Except one. That person can never become president — which also apparently precludes serving as vice president.

If, in 1787, our lawmakers had not adopted Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, would the idea be viable if proposed today?

Put it another way, if the ban did not exist now and some party proposed it, what would be the reaction of admirers of Arnold Schwarzenegger? What response could we expect from civil rights and human rights advocates and groups such as the ACLU?

If Article 2, Second I deserves reconsideration, any review should be based on merit — not the popularity of an individual who, in the passing parade of history, will be on stage ever so briefly.

Published in Editorials on December 3, 2004 10:58 AM