Feature

John McCain, immigrant?

John McCain was born on a military base outside the U.S., said Cenk Uygur in The Huffington Post, so shouldn't a "'strict constructionist' conservative" say that means he can't be president? Democrats would be wise not to play the constitutional

What happened

John McCain said the fact that he was born outside of the U.S., on a U.S. military base in the Panama Canal Zone, does not bar him from the presidency. The New York Times had raised the issue by examining the Constitution’s requirement that a president be a “natural-born citizen.” McCain said that the issue was settled by Barry Goldwater’s run for president in 1964—Goldwater was born in Arizona when it was a U.S. territory, not a state. (AP in USA Today)

What the commentators said

If you’re going to claim to be a “‘strict constructionist’ conservative,” said Cenk Uygur in The Huffington Post, this should be “the end of the John McCain candidacy.” The rules are laid out clearly in Article II of the Constitution. The Panama Canal Zone “is not U.S. land,” and “neither is the military base.” He’d have a better argument if he’d be born in an embassy. Is it “unfair” that the kids of “patriotic parents” born on overseas military bases can’t be president? Yes. “Boo hoo. Sad day for you. Strict constructionism!”

Democrats would be wise to avoid playing the constitutional literalism card here, said Jim Geraghty in National Review Online’s Campaign Spot blog. Under “a literal reading of the Kenyan Constitution, Barack Obama is technically a Kenyan citizen.” Or at least you could make that argument. Sure he’s never claimed Kenyan citizenship or even, “to the best of anyone’s knowledge,” dual citizenship. But “a serious effort to argue that McCain is disqualified from being president” will only attempt to prove that “a child of one American and one foreign-born parent is eligible for the presidency” while “a child of two Americans, one a serving member of the U.S. Armed Forces, born in a U.S. territory,” is not.

Not even the Times suggests that McCain will face a serious challenge on this, said Christopher Beam in Slate’s Trailhead blog. But “that doesn’t mean Republicans shouldn’t clear this up once and for all.” They won’t before the end of this election, because “GOP leaders don’t want to raise doubts about McCain’s eligibility, no matter how minor.” But—“and yes, this counts as a crackpot theory”—if Obama wins, the GOP has “the complete package” for 2012 in Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republicans might want to start “pushing to tweak the Constitution—and soon.”

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