Friday, August 29, 2008

Such a fine line

It is perhaps surprising that one of the greatest nuggets of philosophical wisdom comes not from some Greek thinker or revered English playwright, but from the 1984 Rock-N-Roll spoof "This is Spinal Tap." In it, the addled philosopher-rocker David St. Hubbins observes "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

I will hazard a guess that John McCain has never seen the movie.

In picking Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate, McCain has done what seems to be an astonishingly clever thing. Palin is successful and bright, by all accounts personable, vivacious, and energetic. She's the kind of woman that any man would like to have as a mother, wife or daughter. She's the kind of woman that any other woman might admire and aspire to be.

And yet, McCain may have veered dangerously close to David St Hubbins' dreaded line.

For one thing, he has neatly kicked a rhetorical leg out from under himself. Never again will anyone be able to listen with a straight face when he accuses Barack Obama of bring a naïve, inexperienced lightweight. Palin is just 44 years old and has been governor for just two years after serving as a small town mayor. In terms of heavy-weight national and international experience, or even just life experience, she and Obama are roughly tied. If she's ready to be president in the event of McCain's death, then Obama is ready to be president in the event of McCain's defeat.

But perhaps even more seriously, McCain has made the one mistake that neither candidate should have made (and yet both did). He picked a person who highlights his most serious perceived weakness. There are few people in the country that could have highlighted more painfully McCain's age and frailty, or thrown into sharp relief his status as a grey-haired Washington insider. Perhaps only Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal could have done more to make McCain look like a feeble and aging veteran senator.

Of course, Obama has made roughly the same mistake. By picking Joe Biden, Obama has tied his fortune to a serious, respected, graying elder statesman with a lengthy Washington career. The choice of Biden doesn't remove a rhetorical weapon for Obama, as McCain's choice did for the GOP, but it will still make it painfully clear that Obama is young and relatively inexperienced. Perhaps worse, Biden is lively, funny, and irreverent (if excessively verbose at times), likely to charm the press and voters. This will be a painful contrast with the dour, distant, and slightly disapproving demeanor that Obama has projected so far.

Unfortunately, it may not be so easy for voters to decide in November which side of David St. Hubbins' line they are standing on.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Silly Season

A friend of mine back in Washington used to call election time the "Silly Season." And he was right. A sign of how silly things have gotten this year is an article that appears to be causing great interest and jubilation among Right Wingers, in which political gadfly author Steve Miller writes that Obama is not a "natural born citizen" of the United States, as required by the Constitution in order to become president.

The article says, in part:

Barack Obama is not legally a US natural-born citizen according to the law on the books at the time of his birth; a law that was in effect between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, when the law was changed.

However, the new law did not preempt the former law in the cases of those born between the above listed dates when the old law was in effect.

Therefore, Senator Obama may very well be disqualified as the Democratic candidate in the upcoming Presidential campaign.

Presidential office requires the person elected to be a natural-born United States citizen if the child was not born to two US citizen parents.

US Law very clearly stipulates: “If only one parent was a US citizen at the time of your birth, that parent must have resided in the United States for at least ten years, at least five of which had to be after the age of 16.”

Barack Obama’s father was not a US citizen, and Obama’s mother was only 18 when he was born, which means although she had been a US citizen for 10 years, his mother fails the test for being so for at least 5 years prior to Barack Obama’s birth.

In order for her child to have been a natural-born US citizen, his mother would have had to be 21 at the time of his birth.

In essence, Mrs. Obama was not old enough to qualify her son for automatic US citizenship.

His mother would have needed to have been 16+5 = 21 years old at the time of Barack Obama’s birth for him to have been a natural-born citizen.

Barack Obama instead should have been naturalized, but even then, that would still disqualify him from holding the office of President under current law.

This would all be terribly interesting, of course, except it is wrong. Obama was born in Honolulu, which even the most hardened Wingnut would have to admit was part of the 50 United States in 1961. And the 14th Amendment, passed slightly less than a century before Obama was born, makes one thing clear up front, in its very first sentence:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.

UPDATE: It appears that Miller simply lifted a bit of Internet mythology that has been circulating for several weeks and has been attributed to various authors (but frequently with significant details altered), making it unclear who came up with it first.

It has become so common, the great Urban Legend Reference Page has weighed in.