The Washington Times
It’s the middle of August, and if ever there is a right time for a little frivolity in a political column, such as this one, it’s the middle of August. So, here goes.
To my mind, two rather dubious provisions of the U.S. Constitution are working together to prevent what could be the single most interesting and exciting presidential election in American history so far, and indeed, perhaps, ever. I mean, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Bill Clinton.
The problems are obvious: Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution limits eligibility for the presidency to those who are “natural born” citizens. Arnold Schwarzenegger, though he came to the United States in 1968 and became a U.S. citizen in 1983, was born in Austria and is therefore ineligible. As for Bill Clinton, the 22nd Amendment says you can only be elected twice.
Now, we all know that there are lots of Republicans out there who would love to see Arnold run for president. And plenty of Democrats would be thrilled at the prospect of another display of Mr. Clinton’s formidable political skills.
So as it happens, Republicans have been muttering recently about how outdated the “natural born” clause is, how fundamentally unfair and without plausible justification. When they talk like this, they sound a bit like Democrats in their concern for this still-constitutionally oppressed class. Similarly, Democrats – sounding like libertarian Republicans concerned about overweening governmental restrictions on their freedom to choose their political leaders – ask whether it is just to deny people a candidate they want merely because he has been popular and successful enough to be elected president twice.
The problem is that the Democrats know what the Republicans are up to, and the Republicans know what the Democrats are up to. So, Democrats would never go along with a constitutional amendment lifting the “natural born” requirement, no matter how much it happened to sound like something a Democrat should in principle favor. And, likewise, a Republican would never buy into a proposal to lift the term limit, for the same reason.
An additional complexity here is that Republicans, in the early 1990s, actually talked themselves into believing they were in principle in favor of term limits. Although this turned out really to be support for term limits just as a means of improving their chances in congressional elections, it might be a bit embarrassing to reverse course. On the other hand, given that many Democrats favor voting rights for non-citizens and drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens, how exactly they would construct an argument in favor of retaining a remnant of nativist discrimination in the Constitution is likewise a good question.
There’s no way you can take up the questions one at a time and succeed in passing constitutional amendments – because I’ll be for mine and against yours, and so will you. Although Republicans would love a world in which Arnold could run for president and Bill Clinton couldn’t, just as Democrats would love a world in which Mr. Clinton was eligible but Mr. Schwarzenegger wasn’t, neither group can have everything it wants. There is one and only one solution: a package deal.
Now, of course, there are a couple of obstacles here beyond the Constitution. First and largest, Mr. Schwarzenegger needs to A] win the California governorship; B] solve California’s multibillion dollar budget crisis [among other crises]; and C] win re-election in 2006. In other words, he has to prove he’s a politician about as good as Ronald Reagan [although Mr. Reagan was never in Arnold’s league as a movie star, be it noted].
Not that it’s a cakewalk for Mr. Clinton, either. First of all, he will have to explain this plan to Mrs. Clinton. It is quite possible that her favorite thing about her husband at the moment is that he can’t run for president again, since it’s her turn. And in this, she would be not unlike every other Democrat who aspires to the office.
But both men have extraordinary abilities. I say, give them a chance. So, with all due modesty, here is my proposal for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“Section 1. No person shall be eligible to the office of President except a citizen of the United States who shall have attained to the age of 35 years and been 14 years a resident within the United States.
“Section 2. The Twenty-Second Amendment is hereby repealed.”
In one fell swoop, we can queue up the Terminator vs. the Comeback Kid. Future generations of bored high school social studies students will thank us much for that.