When I watch Orly Tatiz and Georgia State Representative Mark Hatfield, a Republican, explain why they think President Barack Obama’s name should be struck from the Georgia primary ballot I am at once inspired with a wish that the South had won the Civil War: The species of idiocy espoused by these two inspires such revulsion that I wish they lived in another country. But we are joined at the Constitutional hip. So I call these two birthers fellow citizens, and I marvel that anyone in their right mind could waste their time on the nonsense they espouse.
The two will be on display in a Fulton County courthouse later this month to press their claim that Obama is not a natural-born citizen. As a result, they contend, he should not be on the presidential primary ballot for the 2012 election. Indeed, he ought not to be president. In the world these folks inhabit, we are governed unlawfully, by a foreign power. Obama is not ‘merican enough for these crackers.
The real issue, the one the two do not have the courage to profess, is that Obama is an African-American. When he was elected to the highest office in the land in 2008, the unthinkable occurred, something many of us never thought we’d see in our lifetime: a man with the look of a former slave became president. You didn’t expect the legions of hate to put up a white flag and sing the national anthem, did you?
I’m mid-way through Randall Kennedy’s new book, The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency. It is a book that should be read by every American occupying the privileged side of the color line in America, my side of the line, the line that gives me the benefit of the doubt just by rolling out of bed in the morning. If you are born on the other side of the line, the good things in life don’t come as easily. It is a fact of life that only the wilfully blind or fools ignore. Race matters in the United States. If you doubt it, just look at the "birther" nonsense. Obama has been in office for more than three years now, and still the lunatic fringe of the white world looks for a way to say "It just can’t be!"
Article Two of the United States Constitution, drafted in the late 18th century, requires that the president be "a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution." It also requires that a president be at least 35-years old.
There are two primary theories that determine how a person becomes a citizen. In most of the world, a person is eligible to become a citizen of the country in which his father was a citizen. Thus, I am eligible for citizenship in Greece because my father was a native of Crete. Indeed, my father died in his 80s in this country, an illegal alien to the day he died. He snuck into the country, earned his living as an armed robber for years, eventually acquired false papers and found a place in this great nation of ours. But he died without ever having been naturalized. I am the son of an illegal alien.
But I was born within the territorial limits of the United States. I am a natural born citizen. In the United States, any person born here becomes a citizen as an accident, or, as lawyers might say, an incident, of birth.
At the time the Constitution was drafted I can well understand the fear that a president might be beholden to a foreign power. No one not a citizen of the new republic at the time of its founding could become the nation’s leader. We were born in rebellion. It was understood that many with loyalties to Britain, or even France, lived among us. The test of citizenship was a matter of political prudence in those times.
The requirement today is anachronistic and trite. It demeans a charter of sometimes poetic reach with quotidian nitty-gritty. The politics of immigration is now a national disgrace. The vast majority of Americans either came here, or are descendants of those who came here, hoping for a better life. It is a sign of our national insecurity and fear that we who arrived here first now seek to keep others out. This used to be a land of opportunity, unless you are a true native; it is becoming a continent of fear. And no one fears the loss of the limited privileges he enjoys quite so much as the person newly arrived.
The ancient and abiding scar of slavery, the original sin present at the creation of this republic and resonates still in every snigger, sneer and slight tossed at persons of color. The color line is alive, well, and raw. It is especially raw in the deep South were polls relate that support and opposition for the presidency of Obama fell along the color line.
The birthers appear to believe Obama was not born in the United States. He is not just unfit for office, but should, most likely, be convicted of perjury for attesting otherwise. Nothing will persuade them. A birth certificate? Why, it’s forged. Witnesses? They will be liars. Yet who can attest truly to the facts and circumstances surrounding their birth? Find me the person with recall of their birth and you’ve found me a liar. We tumble from the womb as little more than bundles of sensation in need of nurturing. We trust the representations of others as to the facts and circumstances of our birth. Except when we choose not to trust because we hate.
Birthers beat their breast about fidelity to the Constitution. The grand charter matters, they say. Their love of country requires them to raise this issue, they implore. If ever you want to see pretextual gibberish in action watch a birther’s lips move. Birthers are speaking in a code easy to translate. It is a form of racism. No matter what the proof they will not be persuaded that Obama is qualified to be president. Forget the Harvard law degree, the intelligence, the charisma. No matter what qualities the man possesses, he is unfit. And he is unfit not because of an accident of birth. He is unfit because he is black.
I suspect that in the sweatshops of hate a similar spirit of stupidity has researchers churning out briefing papers on why a woman cannot be a president. After all, at the time the Constitution was drafted, women could not vote. They did not have full citizenship. Yes, the Constitution has been amended to permit them suffrage. But the intent of the framers is, after all, sacrosanct. A separate amendment to the Constitution is required before a woman can both vote and be eligible for the nation’s highest office. Go ahead and scoff at such fancy, but watch it surface once a woman cracks the glass ceiling of national politics.
Anyone can file a writ and appear in a courtroom of the United States to advance a claim, no matter how preposterous the allegations. The nonsense to be offered in a Fulton County courthouse later this month seeks to require Obama to prove his citizenship. No proof will satisfy those bringing the action. They will not rest until the White House is occupied by a white man. They just lack the honesty and decency to say so.
Don’t even try to persuade me otherwise. Don’t waste your breath. You will need every gasp to survive. The foot you feel on your throat is mine, and I intend to keep pressing until you have breathed your last. This birther business is hateful nonsense, as hateful as the slave master’s whip.