- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

The Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee is considering an amendment to the U.S. Constitution proposed by Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat. According to the Resolution, "A person who is a citizen of the United States, who has been for 20 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 States.
Amendments to the Constitution are rarely necessary, al-most 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 also is 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, my 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 Founding. As well as writing a regular column, I have published a book about American political philosophy.
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 good will 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 always have, 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 times.
Coming to America to find new opportunity is one thing. To come here with the idea of becoming the sole possessor of executive power is preposterous.
Yet that is precisely the temptation the proposed amendment would unleash upon the world.


Balint Vazsonyi, concert pianist and historian, is director of the Center for the American Founding and author of "America's 30 Years War: Who Is Winning?"

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