Karma is a bitch.
Perhaps the most toxic legacy of the 2008 Presidential campaign was the emergence of the Birthers.
As Barack Obama’s campaign took off, a die-hard band of desperate reality-deniers, led by their cuckoo queen Dentist/Lawyer Orly Taitz, combined increasingly ridiculous conspiracy theories about the circumstances and location of Obama’s birth with a peculiar hard-core interpretation of the intent behind the Constitutional phrase “natural born citizens” into a (to them) compelling case that Obama was ineligible to be POTUS.
At first, they posited, Barack Hussein Obama was not actually born in the state of Hawaii, but was instead born in Kenya, then whisked into the US and records falsified to make him an American. Because Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. intentionally left the US while she was enormous with child so that she could give birth to her son in a third-world country instead of an American hospital, but anticipated that their bi-racial son born in pre-Loving v. Virginia America would someday be a shoo-in for the Presidency or something.
As people continued to point and laugh at their complex crackpot theories, some Birthers began to advance a second argument, which they found even more compelling.
Even if they conceded that Obama was born on US soil, he didn’t meet the criterion of “natural born citizen” because his birth father was not himself a US citizen, but a Kenyan. By stretching the Constitution just so and holding it over a candle to reveal hidden inscriptions in invisible ink, they determined that a “natural born citizen” could not be born to a parent who held citizenship in any other country, because that made the child a dual national, not a real American.
So even after President Obama was hectored and pestered by diehard racists and preening jackwagons like Donald Trump into releasing copies of the President’s original long-form birth certificate from its vaults, it was immaterial. To the Birthers, his father’s Kenyan citizenship meant that Barack Obama still wasn’t an authentic American.
Still with me? Good. Here’s where the fun begins.
Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather, faced in 1884 with arrest for the practice of polygamy, packed up his five sister-wives and progeny and high-tailed it south of the border to Mexico. Mitt’s father George Romney was born in Mexico, which conferred Mexican birthright citizenship to him regardless of his parents’ nationality.
Meet the Mexican branch of the Romney family in this interview with Univision (don’t worry, there are subtitles so you can understand them!).
I know, you’re saying to yourself, this is crazy! It doesn’t matter where George Romney was born because his parents were Americans. George Romney even pursued the presidency himself in 1968 and his eligibility was not questioned. And furthermore, Obama’s rival in 2008, John McCain, was himself born on a military base in the Panama Canal Zone to American-born parents, and when the question of his own eligibility for the office began to percolate, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution declaring him to be a natural born citizen.
Wait a minute. You didn’t know about that?
I’m going to excerpt at length from that Washington Post story from 2008, because I believe that it holds the key to truly understanding why the Birther movement was born. (All emphasis added)
The Senate has unanimously declared John McCain a natural-born citizen, eligible to be president of the United States.
That is the good news for the presumptive Republican nominee, who was born nearly 72 years ago in a military hospital in the Panama Canal Zone, then under U.S. jurisdiction. The bad news is that the nonbinding Senate resolution passed Wednesday night is simply an opinion that has little bearing on an arcane constitutional debate that has preoccupied legal scholars for many weeks.
Article II of the Constitution states that “no person except a natural born citizen . . . shall be eligible to the office of president.” The problem is that the Founding Fathers never defined exactly what they meant by “natural born citizen,” and the matter has never been fully tested in court. At least three pending cases are challenging McCain’s right to be sworn in as president.
Jurists on both sides of the political divide, consulted by the McCain campaign, insist that the issue is clear-cut. They argue that McCain is a natural-born citizen because the United States held sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone at the time of his birth, on Aug. 29, 1936; because he was born on a U.S. military base; and because his parents were U.S. citizens.
But Sarah H. Duggin, an associate law professor at Catholic University who has studied the “natural born” issue in detail, said the question is “not so simple.” While she said McCain would probably prevail in a determined legal challenge to his eligibility to be president, she added that the matter can be fully resolved only by a constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court decision.
“The Constitution is ambiguous,” Duggin said. “The McCain side has some really good arguments, but ultimately there has never been any real resolution of this issue. Congress cannot legislatively change the meaning of the Constitution.”
But wait; it gets better.
One person who disagrees with that premise is New Hampshire resident Fred Hollander, who has filed a suit in U.S. District Court claiming that the Republican candidate is “not a natural born citizen.” In an attempt to prove his argument, the 49-year-old computer programmer filed a subpoena last month seeking McCain’s birth certificate.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees citizenship services, declined to hand over copies of the document, saying the subpoena was improperly served.
In his autobiography, “Faith of My Fathers,” McCain writes that he was born “in the Canal Zone” at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Coco Solo, which was under the command of his grandfather, John S. McCain Sr. The senator’s father, John S. McCain Jr., was an executive officer on a submarine, also based in Coco Solo. His mother, Roberta McCain, now 96, has vivid memories of lying in bed listening to raucous celebrations of her son’s birth from the nearby officers’ club.
The birth was announced two days later in the English-language Panamanian American newspaper. A senior official of the McCain campaign showed a reporter a copy of the senator’s birth certificate issued by Canal Zone health authorities, recording his birth in the Coco Solo “family hospital.”
Curiously enough, there is no record of McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone Health Department’s bound birth registers, which are publicly available at the National Archives in College Park. A search of the “Child Born Abroad” records of the U.S. consular service for August 1936 included many U.S. citizens born in the Canal Zone but did not turn up any mention of John McCain.
Possible discrepancies in the bureaucratic paperwork are of little concern to Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor who looked into the case at the McCain campaign’s request. Tribe examined the issue along with Theodore B. Olson, his onetime nemesis in the 2000 Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore.
Tribe said it would be “astonishing if the recordkeeping practices of Canal Zone [officials] could have any bearing on eligibility for the U.S. presidency.”
The key constitutional issue is whether the Canal Zone was part of the United States at the time of McCain’s birth. In a memorandum, Tribe and Olson cite a 1986 Supreme Court ruling stating that the United States “exercised sovereignty” over the 10-mile-wide area between 1904 and 1979, when it was handed back to the Panamanians. Hollander and others challenging McCain’s eligibility argue that the zone was never part of the United States.
Duggin, the constitutional law scholar, said the sovereignty question is “more complex” than Olson and Tribe concede. People born in some U.S. territories, such as American Samoa, are not recognized as citizens of the United States.
According to a State Department manual, U.S. military installations abroad cannot be considered “part of the United States” and “A child born on the premises of such a facility is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and does not acquire U.S. citizenship by reason of birth.” Tribe said the manual is an “opinion” with no legal status.
Duggin believes that Hollander and the other plaintiffs are likely to have a hard time establishing their own eligibility, or legal standing, to challenge McCain. She said it will be difficult for them to demonstrate that they have been “disenfranchised” because of the mere presence on the ballot of a candidate with debatable constitutional qualifications.
But she said the matter should be sorted out before the election, rather than afterward: “Imagine what would happen if the courts were to overturn an election simply based on eligibility. It would be a disaster. After what happened in 2000, people would completely lose faith in the electoral process.”
So, by mid-2008, the question of whether John McCain met the constitutional requirement of “natural born citizen” had become the subject of multiple lawsuits and open debate, with people clamoring to see his birth certificate, which the US Senate successfully tamped down by passing a resolution pretending to settle the question in their colleague McCain’s favor.
The evil brilliance of Karl Rove was in figuring out that the best way to deal with your own candidate’s weaknesses is to accuse his opponent of those same weaknesses.
Therefore, I posit that the initial impetus to question Barack Obama’s eligibility for the Presidency was to deflect attention from John McCain’s own real problems with this very issue.
And thus a crackpot theory to delegitimize the candidacy of Barack Obama, which I believe was itself a Rovian master-stroke to turn one of McCain’s own weaknesses into a point of attack on his opponent, further stoked by deep denial among racists and conspiracy theorists that Americans actually elected the black guy as Commander in Chief, comes around to bite the Republican’s anointed plastic Ken-doll candidate in the ass just four years later.
Even as we speak, commenters in the nether reaches of the right-wing sewers of the internets are building their case against the candidacy of Mitt Romney on Constitutional grounds. Even if the combined Jesus-loving power of Perry, Bachmann and Santorum can’t bring down the Mittster, these plucky patriots are confident that they hold the key to finishing him off.
All that matters to them is that George Romney was himself born in Mexico and a dual national, and therefore, his children do not meet the Birther’s post-Obama test for natural born citizenship.
And I, for one, salute them with a sad trombone.