The Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee is
considering an amendment to the U.S. Constitution proposed by Representative
Barney Frank (D-MA). According to the Resolution, "A person
who is a citizen of the United States, who has been for twenty years
a citizen of the United States, and who is otherwise eligible for
the Office of President, is not ineligible to that office by reason
of not being a native born citizen of the United States." In
other words, naturalized citizens may run for president of the United
Amendments to the Constitution are rarely necessary, almost never
justified, and altogether inappropriate in the present political
climate. Americans do not appear to be in agreement about the very
nature of the Republic. In other words, Benjamin Franklin's admonition
about "hanging together" has fallen out of favor.
Here is what Alexander Hamilton writes in Federalist No.68: "...it
will require other talents and a different kind of merit to establish
him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable
a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate
for the distinguished office of president of the United States"
To merit the unreserved confidence of the Union, the "chief
magistrate" - who is also Commander-in-Chief - has to grow
from the soil.
My own personal "journey to America" began with reading
as much American literature in my formative years as American high
school students might have in bygone ages. Soon after arriving here,
I married a native-born American and began to speak English exclusively
in my home. Before and after taking the oath of citizenship, efforts
to become American, not only in the administrative sense, included
the formation of a small corporation and running for elective office
- both of which are indispensable for the comprehension of America.
The life of a performing artist and academic, my natural course,
offers insufficient insight.
My interest in, and commitment to, America's founding principles
prompted the establishment of the Center for the American. As well
as writing a regular column, I have published a book about American
Nonetheless, I would not consider myself eligible to the office
of president of the United States.
The people of this land are possessed of a unique brand of tolerance,
a balanced temperament, and a natural goodwill toward the world.
While such persons may be found everywhere, they constitute an overwhelming
majority among Americans. One of the inexplicable miracles of America
is the transformation that occurs within one generation, no matter
how different the customs and mores of the new arrivals.
But it does require a generation.
One might point to "frivolous" differences, such as foreign
and indigenous sports. We hear a great deal about Soccer Moms, but
soccer is still alien to Americans, whereas the debate as to whether
baseball or football is America's true national sport remains one
immigrants are more likely to watch than to join.
However, there is a far more serious matter to consider.
Article II of the U.S. Constitution requires the President to "take
Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." It is an incontrovertible
fact that the inhabitants of most countries are not only unfamiliar
with what we call the Rule of Law, but find the concept virtually
incomprehensible. Again, it is a miracle that so many immigrants
are able to operate within the American system of laws, contracts,
and agreements on a handshake. On the other hand, to expect that
someone who did not grow up with any of that could be the guardian
of our legal system is unrealistic.
In addition, liberty is not simply a blessing guaranteed by the
Constitution, but an inner state of being, again separating Americans
from most others. An overwhelming majority of immigrants arrive
on these shores looking, as they had always done, to government
as a source of benefits, and an authority to obey. It is a habit
hard to break.
The above reasoning would have been similar in times past. It is
considerably more compelling today. The expectation that immigrants
adopt American standards with the same enthusiasm as Americans offer
to adopt immigrants has been displaced by the proliferation of the
hyphen. Equally of concern is the new appetite for, and silent acceptance
of, dual citizenship. It would be naive at best to believe that
neither has any bearing on what used to be unconditional loyalty
and commitment to America.
Last but not least, it is well known that the Founding Fathers
were mindful in the extreme of foreign influences, and the resulting
dangers to the Republic. While experience has shown that a native-born
Chief Executive is not necessarily immune to foreign influence,
the odds are certainly more favorable if the president is an American
plain and simple, who has never been, and is not at the time of
taking office, anything else. After all, whereas legislative and
judicial powers are dispersed among many, executive authority is
concentrated in the solitary person of the president.
Those who favor the proposed amendment will no doubt point to exceptional
persons of their acquaintance who, in their view, would fulfill
any and all expectations, though being of foreign birth. Yet the
laws of this country never have been written with the exceptions
in mind. Among other things, the Framers of the Constitution distinguished
themselves by writing few laws, and employing language at once broad
and concise, so as to be applicable to all circumstances at all
Coming to America to find new opportunity is one thing. To come
here with the idea of becoming the sole possessor of executive power
Yet that is precisely the temptation the proposed amendment would
unleash upon the world.