“Birthers” And The Smell Test

Note to self: never underestimate the power of Andrew Breitbart.

At last weekend’s Tea Party Convention, the professional gadfly took on the “birther” movement (those people who deny President Obama’s constitutional eligibility to be president). Breitbart didn’t engage them on their chosen battleground — legal minutiae and 18th century semantics and other forms of arcanery — but instead on a strategic ground: what do they intend to achieve, and what will be the ancillary damage caused by their victory?

It got me thinking, and writing — and in the comments to the posting I made about it, we all got throughly lectured on the fine points of the issue (in such excruciating detail that the term “anal-retentive” was left in the dust after three sentences by first-time commenter “Mick.”

I’m not going to recap Mick’s arguments, because 1) I find them exceedingly tedious and his tone pedantic; B) he would instantly leap in and “correct” me on the slightest flaw I made in condensing them, bringing up the “tedious” and “pedantic” points again, and III) the point I wish to make here is not about the details themselves, but the fundamental nature of the argument. Besides, his extended diatribes and paranoid rants (I especially enjoyed his uncovering and denouncing of “smrstrauss” as “a paid shill of the Usurper” — got copies of the pay stubs, Mickey?) took up 28% of the comments on that piece already.

No, I’m going to skip entirely past the merits of the argument and the appeals to “reason” and summarize the essence of the whole thing — and then make my case not to your minds, but your guts.

The theory Mick puts forth is that Obama, by virtue of his father’s non-American citizenship at the time of his birth, is not Constitutionally eligible to serve as president. Obama is not, by the ancient definition, not a “natural-born” American, but merely a “natural” American.

Think about that one for a moment. By Mick’s argument, there are three classes of American citizens. There are naturalized Americans, who are those who were born citizens of another nation but came to this country and pledged their loyalty. They get nearly all the rights of other Americans, but with two key restrictions: they cannot ever serve as President or Vice-President, and they can be stripped of their citizenship as part of a legal sanction.

Then there are “natural born Americans.” This is where most of us fall, I believe — born here, and fully entitled to every single right and privilege of being an American.

And then there are what Mick described as “natural Americans.” These are “natural born Americans” in every respect but one — there was some flaw governing their birth that imposes some legal limitations on their rights. They can not serve as president or vice president.

In Obama’s case, the argument goes, his father’s status as not an American citizen at the time of Obama’s birth represents such a flaw. And therefore, he must be stripped of office.

OK, so he’s out. What next? This is literally unprecedented in history. Mick says that Congress must then appoint a president. I’d thought about the possibilities, and that one escaped me.

My first thought was that the presidential succession kicks in, and Joe Biden becomes president.

Then I wondered if Obama’s ineligibility would taint the entire election, disqualifying Obama, and Nancy Pelosi would become president. (That one would almost be worth it. We’d get rid of Biden, Pelosi would be out of Congress, and we’d have an open presidency in 2012.)

Or, if the election could be overturned, and we’d have President McCain and Vice-President Palin.

Or we could hold a “do-over” election, with the Democratic National Committee selecting new nominees.

But back to the point here: Mick’s entire argument is based on a single concept: that “natural” Americans are divided into two classes. That there are “real” Americans — “natural born” citizens — and “second-class” Americans. And unless you’re a “super-American,” you can’t be president.

This is different from the “born” vs. “naturalized” status. I’m not overly fond of that one — I’d like to see it changed to grant Americans who’s been upstanding citizens for a few decades the full rights of natural-born Americans — but I understand it. I can live with it. There’s a certain amount of personal investment that goes with “this is my homeland” that is something that must be respected and honored.

There’s more than a whiff of “are you American ENOUGH?” attitude in Mick’s position. There’s a bit more of a hint of “I’m more American than you are” underlying his arguments.

Over at Brietbart’s “Big Journalism,” Kurt Schlichter (now there’s an un-American name if I ever heard one — who the hell are YOU to tell US about what it means to be an American, you lousy Kraut?) points out that the “birthers” like Mick aren’t interested in “discussing” the matter. They use the phrase “just asking questions,” but simply will not hear the answers. No, the whole point behind their “question-raising” is to get their “questions” out there, smearing through innuendo.

Now there is a certain appeal to the “birthers” arguments. Much of President Obama’s career is built on a similar tactic — getting his opponents off the ballot before the race. He got several of his would-be rivals disqualified from the ballots, and convenient allies in the media embarrassed a couple out of the race by obtaining and releasing sealed records containing unfounded allegations. To have Obama fall victim to the same tactic that he used so well has a certain elegance and poetic justice to it.

But I’m not willing to pay the price for that.

I argued against Obama’s election. I did not vote for him. I do not like many of his policies or appointments or positions. I am extremely unlikely to vote for him next time. I fully expect to support his opponent.

But as of January 20, 2009, he became my president. And — pending circumstances that I do not want to even consider — he will remain my president at least until January 20, 2013.

The path to remove him by this tactic goes through me, Mick. And Mr. Schlichter. And a whole slew of other Americans who are rejecting your paranoid, obsessive ranting — including, I’d wager, the vast majority of the United States military. Those fine men and women took an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution” — to them, Obama is their legal commander in chief, and they’re going to defer to their chain of command and not a bunch of obsessive assholes on what is or is not Constitutional. Their default position is that Obama has been recognized as the legal president by both of the other branches of government (that would be Congress, through certification of the Electoral College vote, and the Supreme Court, whose chief justice administered the oath of office) and as such any appeals to them to get involved in your cause is tantamount to soliciting treason.

As I said yesterday, Mick, the whole ‘birther” argument (and before you get sand in your knickers of the term, I define it to mean “anyone who makes arguments about Obama’s eligibility for office based on the circumstances of his birth”) is a loser. And those who keep making loser arguments are, by definition, losers.

So keep painting that big “L” on your forehead, Mick. It makes it so much easier to identify you.

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