Cockamamie: adjective, Slang.
1. ridiculous, pointless, or nonsensical: full of wild schemes and cockamamie ideas.
As most Americans now realize, the Constitution contains a provision requiring our presidents to be natural-born citizens. And, as anyone who has been paying the least attention to the emerging presidential race knows, one GOP candidate, Ted Cruz, has had questions raised about his legal standing to assume that office because he was born in Canada even though his mother was American.
Donald Trump brought the matter up as an issue in early January, and since that time a cottage industry of commentary has developed, reaching one conclusion or another on the matter. And of course there has been the inevitable "fact check" that meanders around the different views and comes to no firm conclusion.
Not to be outdone, several other presidential candidates and their supporters, such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio backer John McCain, have put on their formidable constitutional scholars' caps and have given their strictly unbiased views.
Still, that hasn't kept editorial writers from weighing in on the subject, unhelpfully. A New York Times reporter wrote that "It May Be Time to Resolve the Meaning of 'Natural Born.'"
Why? Because "The overarching problem is that the Supreme Court has never been forced to interpret the clunky clause, leaving persuasive legal interpretations that range from arguing that the entire debate is nonsensical to asserting that only those born to certified American parents on verifiable American soil can aspire to the White House."
Okay, but apparently "a resolution is no easy task". Why?
Well, because a "constitutional amendment could be the most certain route. Simply excising the phrase 'natural born' in a bit of constitutional copy-editing would mean that a person elected president would have to be a citizen of at least 35 years of age who has been a resident of the United States for at least 14 years — an approach that could open the presidency to naturalized citizens."
Open the door to naturalized citizens? What's wrong with that? Nothing, says the Washington Post. They editorialize: "It's time to remove the 'natural born citizen' requirement from the Constitution."
Because it's confusing? No.
Because Ted Cruz's legal status must be settled before the election? No. They begin by saying, "We believe that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is eligible to be president."
Actually, their concern is quite different. It is that the natural born requirement is exclusionary and discriminatory toward immigrants who have become naturalized citizens. In their own words:
The "natural born citizen" requirement, however, serves no purpose that could possibly justify its continued application. It creates two classes of citizens — those who are eligible to run for president and those who are not. It undermines the notion that allegiance to the Constitution, the democratic process and the rule of law defines what it means to be an American, rather than the provenance of one's blood. It insults naturalized Americans, many of whom appreciate these principles more keenly than many of those who were lucky enough to be born with U.S. citizenship. It is, moreover, anti-democratic, denying voters the opportunity to choose from some of the country's best, brightest and most patriotic citizens simply because they were naturalized after their births.
In bulleted form, here's what the Post editorial is claiming about the natural-born requirement:
- It serves no purpose that could possibly justify its continued application;
- It creates two classes of citizens — those who are eligible to run for president and those who are not;
- It undermines the notion that allegiance to the Constitution, the democratic process, and the rule of law defines what it means to be an American;
- It insults naturalized Americans, many of whom appreciate these principles more keenly than many of those who were lucky enough to be born with U.S. citizenship;
- It is anti-democratic, denying voters the opportunity to choose from some of the country's best, brightest and most patriotic citizens simply because they were naturalized after their births.
Every single one of these assertions is wrong.
Far from serving no purpose, the provision serves a very central core purpose — to make sure that the person who serves in the most powerful office in the United States is thoroughly steeped in the country's culture and politics.
Anyone can give voice to the "principles" that the Washington Post proclaims, mistakenly, are the sole essence of being an American. That is why it is not only the "principles" that a president must be steeped in, but also the experience of the country itself — having been deeply immersed in American culture — by living in the country day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.
And please don't bring up the lack of civic knowledge displayed by many Americans. Historical and political facts are not synonymous with cultural immersion and experience.
Naturalized citizens who either come to the county as adults, or who come with parents who emigrate here, simply do not have the same kind of formative experiences. And the older immigrants are when they arrive here, the less of that crucial American identity-forming experience they have.
Is the Washington Post really arguing that an Argentinean economist who immigrated at 40 and became a naturalized citizen at 45 should be able to be president because he is "among the best and the brightest"? Obviously not every presidential candidate in American history has been an Abe Lincoln, yet that's still a fairly condescending and insulting assumption. It suggests we have a quality deficit in our presidential candidates that can be remedied by allowing the foreign-born to gain office.
The Post also profoundly misunderstands what "foreign-born" means for a person's psychology and worldview. Most immigrants maintain a profound attachment to their countries of birth, which is both natural and expected. The later they arrive into a new country, the more deeply they have been immersed and carry with them the consequences of their earlier experience. If I were a Freudian, as well as a psychoanalyst, I would point out that there is a great deal of evidence that very early experience is extremely formative.
Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this; it is entirely normal and expected. Yet, it is also very real.
The Post also ignores the profound political consequences of what it recommends. The authors concentrate on the two classes argument, as if any difference is invidious. Not every difference or distinction is.
We require immigrants to pass a language and civics test and to be of good character, but we don't require that of Americans. Doesn't that result in a "difference"? We require presidential candidates to be 35 years of age. Doesn't that create two classes of citizens?
Moreover, immigration itself has underscored the good-sense rational of this provision.
As immigration reaches record levels, the question of the framework through which national decisions are viewed and taken arises.
One of the most startling innovations of American life has been to take the position that new immigrants, after a suitable period, can be part of the community that helps make the crucial decisions that guide the country. We hope they will make their policy judgments about the issues that face this country from an American perspective and not substantially from a policy grounded in an ethnic or national identity of their home country. That is the bet that America has placed on assimilation and it has worked out well historically.
It would be an enormous mistake to add to that sad set of questions the anxiety-provoking question of whether or not a president is "American enough".