So how are we supposed to know that a candidate for U.S. president meets all the qualifications laid out by the Constitution?
Do we leave it in the hands of the verbal free-for-all that passes as a
debate over whether President Barack Obama actually was born in
America? Or will Congress create an official path for presidential and
congressional candidates to prove their qualifications?
For all the sneering denunciations heaped on the "birthers" -- those
who feel compelled to prove that Obama wasn't born in the United States
and thus is not eligible to be president -- no one, it seems, has touched on a
critically important question: How do we know if someone, anyone is
qualified: Is the candidate at least 35 years old, a resident in the
U.S. for 14 years and a natural-born citizen?
Who officially confirms
that a member of the House of Representatives is at least 25 years old,
has been a citizen for seven years and lives in the state from which he
is elected? Or that a
Senate candidate is at least a 30-year-old,
nine-year citizen and lives in the state he represents?
None of the wiseacres who have been laying it on the birthers seems
interested in the question, choosing instead to use the debate as
another opportunity to jeer and taunt the "wing nuts," "Obama haters,"
"right-wing zealots" and various species of alleged goofballs who have
raised the question about the president.
For some reason, the attacks recently have intensified in frequency and
intensity as liberal and mainstream commentators are having fun dishing
it out. I've started to read FactCheck.org and other similar debunkers,
and the more I read, the more convinced I've become that this tearing
at the seams is not good for the commonweal.
What we have now is a system in which the last man standing wins the
fight. Some official in Hawaii attests to the legitimacy of the Obama
birth certificate or certificate of birth, and that's that. (Here's an
example of just how finely tuned this fight has become: There's a
difference between the two state documents, and on that variance rest
endless arguments.) Internet fact-checking sites have become the de
facto arbiters for serious constitutional questions.
Enforcement of the most basic law of the land -- the Constitution --
is, for all practicable purpose, left in the hands of a laissez-faire
fight between anyone who chooses to enter it. Why must the proof of
such an important federal issue be left with the word of some state
official? There are the courts, yes. But the courts have done their
best to avoid getting involved, including the U.S. Supreme Court, which
has twice refused to hear a case.
I don't blame them; no court now would want to or should be in the
position of overturning Obama's election. A slew of other cases reside
in other courts, but their chances of reaching evidentiary stage are
iffy. One reason is that cases have been thrown out for "lack of
standing." In other words, under the complexities of the law, a citizen
of the United States lacks the standing to bring a case challenging
whether his president has abided by the Constitution.
One federal judge, James Robertson, of the District of Columbia
district court, didn't just throw out a case making an unusual claim of
standing (as an "interpleader," and don't ask me to explain it), but
said it was so "frivolous" that he reprimanded the attorney, John
Hemenway, who brought the claim.
Conspiracy loons are found in all corners of the political map,
and some deserve the razzing they get. Others find great satisfaction
in using the conspiracy theories as a great foil, to discredit one side
or the other. Still others, in my business, use it for an easy story or
column. It's as though they're on automatic and can't think beyond
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