Birther movement heads down the “Ivoirité” route, providing an opening to discuss what it means to be American

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Just don't expect them or their children to be president.

After the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate a few weeks back, I had some twitter conversations about what would be next for the birther movement. I figured they would double-down on their belief that Obama is ineligible to be president. This was typified by an early assertion that the certificate was signed with a pen from the future.

Apparently the birthers have gone another route, and they’ve turned against a few rising Republican stars in the process. WorldNetDaily discusses the presidential eligibility of Senator Marc Rubio of Florida and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, both Republicans:

…their eligibility is in doubt since both men’s parents were not U.S. citizens at the time their future political children were born, WND can reveal. That factor is important because the Constitution mandates a presidential candidate to be a “natural-born citizen” …

The fact that Rubio and Jindal were both born in America undoubtedly makes them “native-born” citizens, but does it mean they’re “natural-born” citizens?

Some would say no – including legal sources relied upon by America’s Founders – based on the foreign births of their parents, an issue many claim disqualifies Obama from holding the presidency, since Obama’s father held British citizenship due to his birth in Kenya, which was under British rule at the time.

(Full text here. Hat tip to Joshua Keating.)

There are several issues worth unpacking here. First, most obviously, if the birther movement starts targeting Republicans, it will likely lose the tacit acceptance that some party leaders had previously granted it. Second, the birther movement is starting to sound eerily like those who pushed the concept of Ivoirité (Ivoirity) in order to exclude Alassane Ouattara and others from the presidency in Côte d’Ivoire. This type of thinking is not as dangerous in the United States, which has more established political and governance institutions, but it still should be a warning flag that something is wrong.

Finally, the birther movement was (and still is) about more than just Obama. It’s even about more than the presidency. It’s indicative of a broader xenophobia that exists in American society.

This is why I’ve been so disappointed by the dismissive response that Obama and the Democrats have given the birthers. Yes, the movement is mostly crackpot conspiracy nuts. They certainly don’t deserve to be addressed on their own terms. But their paranoid ramblings have provided an opening to talk about the very real fears that many Americans have about the country’s changing status in the world, shifts in its cultural and ethnic composition due to immigration and demographics, and what it means to be an American in the new century. The country needs a real public discussion about the positive impact that immigration has had throughout the country’s history, and how that history should inform our policies today.

When Obama released his birth certificate, he said the country needs to focus on serious issues. This is one of those issues. If I we a gutsy Democrat on the Hill (a rare species), I would re-propose the constitutional amendment that would allow foreign-born citizens to run for president. Perhaps members of the GOP will even swing back around. After all, many of them supported the Amend for Arnold campaign back in 2004. This can be an opportunity to talk about the value of inclusiveness and its importance to the American political system.

(Photo: Jessica Burmann.)