Saturday, August 22, 2015

On noses and faces

According to legend, back in the 9th century a group of nuns were concerned because Viking had landed in Scotland and were raping and pillaging their way towards the nun's convent. Desperate to preserve their virtue, the nuns disfigured themselves by slicing off their noses and upper lips, hoping that the Vikings would be so repelled by their appearance that they would refrain from raping them. Their strategy worked. The Vikings were repelled by the nun's appearance and they did not rape the women. Instead they locked them in their convent and burned it to the ground. This is where the phrase "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face" entered the English lexicon, the implication being that an action taken to avoid one outcome resulted in a much worse outcome.
Jumping from the 9th century to 2015, we find ourselves faced with people who frequently comment in political threads where Ted Cruz is mentioned that Ted isn't eligible to be president because he's Canadian. Their argument is as follows: The Constitution requires that the president and vice president be "natural born citizens" the United States. The intent of this requirement was to prevent someone with foreign loyalties from becoming the leader of the US, a common sense concern for a group of people that were shifting their own loyalties to a new nation. Although the term is never defined in the Constitution, it was generally understood at the time to mean someone born in America to parents who were American citizens. The Federalist Papers (Hamilton in Federalist 68 IIRC, I don't have my annotated copy handy) back this interpretation up. It may surprise them to know that I am 100% in agreement with their interpretation of the phrase.
It also doesn't matter a bit.
The fact is that however much I may believe that that is the correct definition, it is not the definition that is generally applied today. There are a lot of reasons for that. The SCOTUS has never weighed in on the actual meaning of the term. The naturalization act of 1790 muddied the waters. There are those who say the language of the 14th Amendment is relevant ("subject to the jurisdiction thereof"). Congress has weighed in WRT certain previous candidate's eligibility. Even though the founding fathers did put in a grandfathering clause for people alive at the time the Constitution was adopted, no president met this standard until John Tyler succeeded W.H. Harrison in 1841. If you buy that Chester A. Author was born in Canada (my take: it's a 50-50 pick em), that means that this rigorous standard hasn't been met by fully a quarter of the Presidents we've had. And so on.
Look. I think that that's the correct interpretation of "natural born citizen", but that's not how the term is used today. I also think that the commerce clause CLEARLY doesn't apply to a farmer growing grain for his own livestock. SCOTUS disagreed. The 14th OBVIOUSLY doesn't give the children of illegal aliens citizenship. Brennan changed that with Plyler v Doe in 1982. Again, and so on.
The fact is that we frequently don't get to live in the world we want, but we're stuck with the world we have; and as such, we should be careful not to unnecessarily cripple ourselves against the opposition.
An analogous situation can be found in baseball. A lot of purists will tell you that the designated hitter rule is an abomination
They may argue stridently against the DH, bemoan how it sullies the purity of the game and dumbs down the importance of smart coaching.
No matter how fervently they may believe any of that, and even if every bit of it is correct, if they field a team in the American League, their lineup is going to contain a DH. They can't win otherwise.
It's the same with natural born citizen. That ship has SAILED. Standing obnoxiously firm on an archaic definition does nothing but cripple your ability to compete.
Ted Cruz doesn't meet that requirement. Neither does Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal (maybe-his parents were here legally but not yet citizens when he was born. I think. It's another layer of complication). In an orgy of purity, we eliminate those three candidates.
You think the left cares? Barack Obama certainly doesn't meet that requirement, they went and elected him for 8 years of hell. Suppose Jindal or Cruz or Rubio is the only candidate that can beat the Biden/Warren juggernaut? Should we deny ourselves the ability to compete over something that the other side completely ignores? The world may admire your commitment to the pure game of baseball as you run your pitcher out to bat down 3 with the bases loaded and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th, but the left has no qualms about sending Nelson Cruz to the plate in the same situation. I know where I'm going to lay down my money if I have to bet on that game.
None of this is to say that Cruz or Jindal or Rubio should be the nominee. They still have to make their case to the Republican voters and win elections. However, to exclude them over a technicality (however correct in theory that technicality may be), eliminating good men from consideration who certainly meet the intent of the clause (or are we now going to argue that Cruz, Rubio or Jindal, if elected, will suborn the interests of the US in favor of those of Canada, Cuba or India?), while the other side is ignoring the rules would be foolish.
Do I wish that we lived in a world where the definition of natural born citizen was rigorously applied as the founders intended?
Do we live in that world?
Get over it.