I got home tonight and booted my system to find this message in one of the FriendFeed feeds I follow (“shouting” in original): “impoliteconversation: RT @KatyinIndy: HISTORICAL NEWS ARTICLES AND FACTCHECK AGREE: #OBAMA IS #KENYAN-BORN http://tinyurl.com/ykanzoo #tcot #gop #tlot @myen.” I couldn’t imagine a point to actually clicking on the link. I did, however, find the FactCheck.org article which flatly contradicts the message in this feed. Great, I thought, more Birther stupidity.
And of course there’s nothing anyone can say that will persuade these idiots that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. This long ago reached a point where any actual proof of Obama’s birth in Hawaii is considered a lie and and any falsehoods “proving” his birth in Kenya are accepted as absolute proof. That this nonsense continues to make the rounds simply illustrates that racism won’t die, either among certain segments of the general population or among certain segments of the mass media.
Part of the problem, though, lies in the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates in Article II, Section 1, that among the qualifications for a president, (s)he must be a “natural born Citizen.” If this anti-immigrant passage did not exist, the Birthers wouldn’t even have the shred of an argument that they do, Birther attorney Orly Taitz would need to find some other way of drawing illicit publicity, and a certain judge who has had the misfortune to deal with her just might be a lot less annoyed.
The Constitution doesn’t explain the rationale for the “natural born Citizen” requirement. It is simply there along with a long obsolete exemption for any “Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution . . . [who has] been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.” I dimly recall from my Social Studies classes way back when a concern that the inbred royals who controlled so many countries in Europe might extend their dominion here. But a preference in the Federalist Papers for elite rule reduces the force of this rationale to a contrast between “our” elite and a “foreign” elite, which I suppose is important if you happen to be a member of “our” elite, fearful of competition from the “foreign” elite.
I’m just really having a hard time imagining this argument carrying any great weight with the Birthers. Of course, they’re simply racists. But what about the rest of us? Why should this seemingly anachronistic provision still carry any force whatsoever?
In a modern context, this provision accompanies a myth that “any boy [gender bias significant] can grow up to be president.” It is part of the myth of equal opportunity in this country. For the “natural born” and unquestioning, it fits in with a myth of the United States as a “melting pot,” as all-inclusive. Except that it clearly doesn’t include immigrants.
I’ve been hearing an awful lot of anti-immigrant bias lately. Those Mexicans doing jobs that few citizens will do are somehow cast as a threat to employment for citizens. They “haven’t paid their dues,” as if crossing an increasingly dangerous Mexican frontier and U.S. border should count for less than satisfying a bureaucracy’s need for paperwork. They should be screened to protect the U.S. from terrorism, as if the 9/11 attackers had entered surreptitiously rather than with documents. And it seems to be awfully important that any health care plan not cover so-called “illegal” immigrants, even if that raises costs for everyone else.
Meanwhile, the federal government is stripping “America’s toughest sheriff” of authority to enforce federal immigration law due to complaints of racial profiling and it is clear that many understand statistics showing that a majority of “illegal” migrants are Latin American to mean that all Latin Americans are “illegal” immigrants.
All this serves to diminish the humanity of migrants, “legal” or otherwise, now overwhelmingly people from Latin America. It inescapably seeks to preserve a particular condition of race relations in which whites exercise hegemony. It exploits an antipathy stemming from the 9/11 attacks to oppress non-citizens of color. It should be seen as inconsistent with the 14th Amendment. It is a blight upon the Constitution and an affirmation of racism.
Birther claims resonate overwhelmingly in a rather narrow segment of the population, primarily amongst Southerners and Republicans. The now-diminishing media attention to these claims privileged this narrow segment of opinion over the concerns of the vast majority of the country. Republican exploitation of the issue was dangerous, not merely irresponsible. It could not be seen as a winning electoral strategy, but rather suggested darker motives.
Republicans might be playing with fire, but Barack Obama should contemplate a possible relationship between the status quo he has sought to preserve, the economic pain he has has done so little about, and the Birther-style racism that may have succeeded in drastically weakening the health care bill that may emerge from Congress. Republicans have proven more effective as a minority faction than the Democrats ever did. My guess is that they’ll do it again.