Have a slice of nation with your holiday pie

Have a slice of nation along with your holiday pie

Dec. 10, 2012

We are a divided nation. There is no time like the holidays for putting that glaring and uncomfortable gorilla of a fact right on the table next to the turkey and pumpkin pie. So my kid sister is dating someone whom I’m meeting for the first time and what does he bring up but Donald Trump’s claim of how Obama is not a legitimate president because he wasn’t born “in America.” I actually surprised myself and behaved. I avoided the temptation for mischief by not pointing out our culture’s penchant for listening to the wisdom of billionaires because having a billion dollars makes you automatically a wise and studious person that everyone should stop whatever he or she is doing and give our full attention to. I also avoided pointing out that maybe Trump may have a point because, as a stolen colony still fighting for its independence, Obama’s birthplace of Hawaii is not exactly legitimate United States territory for some. Then, of course, I avoided the more-direct pathway to holiday disaster by not gloating over the (bad pun alert) trump-ing of the Romney/Ryan ticket and how Romney is headed to the “also ran” dustbin of the history books, or even to get into why it would matter anyway seeing Obama has already served four years and will be with us for another (or, like Bill Clinton, maybe never go away, ever). No, I was good for my mom’s sake by tactfully changing the subject to one that could possibly lead to a more common-ground discussion by asking how we went from a nation of “no taxation without representation” to just plain “no taxation.” My partner came into the room and was pleasantly surprised that there was a civil political discussion going on and while there wasn’t total agreement at least different views were getting a hearing.


But now, of course, I’m still thinking about what I could have said regarding the “birther” subject directly.


Now despite the fact that, as a former professor of Constitutional law at the University of Chicago, Obama is one of a handful of thoughtful scholars our nation has elevated to presidential heights, I’m actually not that big of an Obama fan. I couldn’t help liking his chapter on the Constitution in the “Audacity of Hope,” a book he wrote while he was a senator from Illinois, because I could have written that chapter myself. While we are in agreement that the Constitution is flawed and needs more work, I don’t think that is an excuse for undermining it, as he has done and is doing with summary executions of enemies and waging war without Congressional authorization, for example. Even his Irish roots do not swell me with pride (for a chuckle check out this song from the Irish pub “Starry Plough” in Berkeley, “There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama”). The real answer to the birther gang is a great big: Who cares? Does anyone else wonder where this silly law came from in the first place? If the free people of a free country want to elect Herr-Gropen-Führer Arnold Schwarzenegger president, for example (while he was governor of California rumor had it there was going to be an effort to change the law so he could continue his political career), why then should a foolish law like this protect us from even greater foolishness?


Let’s step into the way-back machine for a minute. After all, there is at least one political party who seems quite fond of the idea “going back” (as in “take our country back,”) although I wonder sometimes if they have ever picked up a history book, but no matter, we are a product of the sweatshops of Hollywood, after all, so we should never let facts get in the way of a good story line.


Where did this law come from anyway? Why would a nation that started as part of another country make a law that disallowed anyone who was born in said country, or any other for that matter, from being democratically elected president? What were they afraid of? After all, during the revolution some of our most passionate patriots were technically Englishmen. Would it have been all that terrible to have Thomas Paine as president? Well, it turns out, Paine could have become president because there was a one-time exception made at the nation’s start, providing you became a citizen before the Constitution of 1789 became the law of the land. Also, with the 14-year residency requirement, you could have run pretty much right away if you were in the colonies at the outset of hostilities in 1775 (with the war ending in 1783, roughly eight years of hostilities, and the treaty and Constitution taking six more years to be crafted and ratified, this adds up to the 14-years the framers specifically mention in the Constitution, and yet, like elections on Tuesdays because market day was Monday, this stuff just hangs around for no good reason). Article 2, Section 1 states: “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution [emphasis added], shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”


So they had a clause that would allow the non-native born to be elected at the start, but after that it would be taboo? What were they thinking? I do not know if the debate on this topic among the framers was ever recorded for posterity. However, as a legitimate objection to a presidency, as the Trumps and ditto heads have steadfastly refused to let go of, it really doesn’t carry much weight. Can you say “grasping at straws”? (I would like to know who came up with the idea of 35 years as well. Was there research at the time proving that pre-35 years of age no man had yet attained the wisdom to rule our nation? And, shouldn’t we lower the age for women seeing as they mature faster than men?)


Again, I want to stress, WHO CARES? Let’s flash forward twenty years from now when the so-called minority-majority of our citizenry elects our first Mexican American president despite the opposition’s efforts to tag him or her with the label of “anchor baby,” that is they will attack this person for being born here legitimately, but with “illegal” parents. Of course, if we are still cursed with listening to the likes of the offspring inheritors of Trump’s, and other mega-war-buck oligarchs (at least money can’t allow the rich themselves to live forever, not yet anyway, but for an interesting take on this watch the movie “In Time”), they will probably not remember that their forbearers attacked our first “black” president for the very opposite reason. Is Obama vulnerable on this account? According to Obama’s autobiography, his father had little interest in using a child to leverage living here, as is the claim made of so-called anchor-baby parents from the “other” Americas.


In the end, I have no idea how this conversation with my sister’s new beau would have turned out. To be fair, I don’t really know what my sister’s friend believes about Obama. No doubt he knew I was from liberal-central Bezerkely, California, and possibly was just baiting me to see how crazily I would react.


Like I said earlier, we are a divided nation, but this is hardly the first time in our history, and will most likely not be the last. After all, only about one third of the population supported the radical project begun when the tea merchant John Hancock put quill to parchment. The sad part in all this is the division is blamed on so-called extremists on “both” sides but this is just plain unfair. I for one believe that no matter what the gulf of our differences may seem to be, in the end, we have enough in common to find some agreement, even if it is on the basic level of shared humanity (OK, maybe even this isn’t possible with some so-called Tea Party Patriots). I believe also that it is essential and even your civic duty to listen to each other and, goddess forbid, possibly even learn from each other.


My advice, when all is said and done, is not to avoid politics at the holiday table by discussing football or shopping, etc. For some of us, even those topics, or just about anything else you can bring, up are chock full of fascinating political angles. For the sake of our democracy we need to talk, and especially cover all the political spectrum in all its amazing glory.


One final note. Check out this Dar Williams song to prepare you for the next holiday gathering. It is the perfect song for the holidays, where only the pies get burned. Peace.



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