A Philosopher's Blog

I’m With Karl Rove on this One

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on April 25, 2011
Karl Rove Assistant to the President, Deputy C...

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The birther issue is like a zombie: though it should be dead and buried, it keeps shuffling along. Also like a zombie, it seems to be able to infect and transform people, such as Donald Trump.

Various states have been considering birther legislation, such as Louisiana. The bill being considered would require and  affidavit, a birth certificate and a sworn statement identifying a presidential candidate’s place of residence for the past 14 years. There are also comparable requirements for those running for congress. Similar bills have failed in Maine, Connecticut, Montana, and Arizona (by veto). These bills seem to be needless-after all, the constitution requires that the president be a natural citizen and there seems to be no rational reason for individual states to require this sort of proof for candidates. There is also the concern of the bureaucracy that would be needed to handle this paperwork.  In any case, these bills seem to be intended to make some sort of political statement against the president. They might also provide a means by which candidates could be kept off ballots. After all, paperwork can be “misplaced” in bureaucracy and other problems can arise proportional to the amount of paper required.

Some potential Republican candidates have taken up the birther cause, such as Donald Trump. Others, such as Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, have stated that they take the president at his word. Karl Rove has claimed that this move has made Trump a “joke candidate” and Rove has consistently attempted to convince Republicans to avoid embracing the birther movement.  I’m with Karl on this one and will simply go along with his arguments here.

I do suspect, to a degree, that Trump “embraced” the birther movement to get more air time. After all, as a possible candidate he would get some coverage. However, by appearing to take up the birther cause, he boosts his media coverage significantly. This allows him to generate attention for himself and his TV show (which generates more attention). By being a “joke” candidate, he gives himself a vast amount of free advertising. If he is, in fact, doing this intentionally, then it is certainly clever showmanship. If he really believes what he is saying, then he is a joke.

Of course, there are a lot of people who believe that he is not joking and agree with Trump in this matter. While about 75% of Americans believe that Obama was (or probably was) born in America, 40% of Republicans believe that he was not. This does give some candidates a reason to embrace the birther movement. After all, they can use it to appeal to a fairly significant chunk of the population. However, this does come with an obvious risk. Many of those who are not birthers seem to regard embracing the birther movement as a negative thing. As such, a candidate that appeals to the birthers might do well with them, but fare poorly in a general election.

While the idea of birther embracing candidates is a matter of concern (at least to some folks), what is of greater concern is that fact that about 25% of Americans believe that the president was not born in America, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the fact that believing this also requires believing many other absurd things. To believe this, they would also presumably have to believe that people in power (including Republicans) are allowing him to stay in office. After all, if Obama really did not meet the citizenship requirement, then John McCain or Hillary Clinton would have been able to simply point this out and Obama would have been out of the running. Since they did not, the birthers must presumably believe that McCain and Clinton are “in on it” and would rather lose to Obama and preserve his secret than expose it. This seems like an absurd thing to believe.

That said, it is worth considering that some birthers say they have doubts about Obama’s place of birth because they do not like him, as opposed to actually believing that he was not born in Hawaii. Then again, it seems likely that many birthers really are true believers.

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13 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on April 25, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Did anyone even know Trump was a Republican until 3 weeks ago?

  2. Michael Atchison said, on April 25, 2011 at 8:43 am

    He had usually allied himself with Democrats in the past.

    I think the Birther movement is absurd, but there is something important to these birther laws being drafted. It’s actually the individual states’ responsibility to determine who is and isn’t a valid candidate for election–there is no provision in the federal government to allow for this question to be raised, so it’s conceivable that an openly unqualified candidate (say, in the case of the presidency, a 33-year-old) could actually be elected to a federal office under our current system (presumably the Supreme Court could then remove that official, but there’s an awful long waiting period). It would be better if state governments were prepared before the fact to make that call. Most of the actual proposed legislation so far has been pretty terrible, and the motives are bad, but that doesn’t mean the legislation is fundamentally wrong… right?

    • frk said, on April 25, 2011 at 9:19 am

      The 33-year-old candidate would be qualified, under the US Constitution (Art 1, sec 2.) to be elected to a federal legislative office. The same candidate would ‘not’ be eligible for the office of president (Article II, sec. 1). Under the 10th amendment, states are only given “powers that are not delegated to the United States by the constitution”.

      As far as action by the judiciary is concerned, I believe the courts can, unfortunately, act as quickly or as slowly as they see fit. I would think, but not being a legal scholar I do not know for sure, that in an extreme case such as you cite, the SC could by-pass the lower courts and determine that , on the face of it, the 33-year-old is eligible for a senate or house seat but ineligible for the office of president. It’s an interesting hypothetical, but I would hope the issue would never arise.

      • Michael Atchison said, on April 27, 2011 at 2:05 am

        I mentioned that the 33-year-old would only be ineligible for the presidency in my original comment.

        Anyway, there’s no reading of the tenth amendment that would prevent states from overseeing who qualifies to be on their ballots. The tenth amendment protects states rights but it doesn’t prevent states from doing things that the federal government should also be doing.

        I guess my worry would be that an unqualified candidate who was extremely favored by the political machine (including SCOTUS justices) could be elected and his election would be allowed to stand. If SCOTUS refuses to hear a case, there’s pretty much nothing the rest of us could do about it — so it seems scary to rely on them to exercise their oversight. But maybe I’m just a wacky conspiracy theorist :-).

        • frk said, on April 27, 2011 at 9:58 am

          I believe I get your point now. Are you saying that, in theory, states can put anyone they want to on a ballot (an 18-year-old Brazilian citizen, for example could be a US presidential candidate in Alaska, for example), and if that candidate went on to win the presidential election, a politically skewed SC, faced with determining the constitutionality of the vote might allow the election to stand?

          For this to happen the candidate would have to be on the ballots of many states and would have to scoop up enough electoral votes to actually win the national election. (Ask Paul, Nader, and others how easy this is to accomplish. . .) For that nightmare scenario to play out, the candidate would likely have to be an extremely charismatic puppet backed by both the Koch brothers and George Soros, Big Oil, Wall Street, the unions and the church. And , in the end , he’d need an extremely politically sympathetic SC to determine that his election met all constitutional requirements.

          Add– 12th Amendment. “No person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.”
          Just another amendment snippet that emphasizes the constitution’s role in establishing eligibility. There’s got to be something in Amendments 9, 10. and 12 and articles I and II that will prevent your night sweats! 🙂

          As far as the states’ rights issue, you’re likely correct, though I’d like to hear more feedback on that from other members of our tidy APB group.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Good ideas can arise from bad motives and bad implementations.

      • Michael Atchison said, on April 27, 2011 at 2:06 am

        Agree completely.

  3. magus71 said, on April 29, 2011 at 7:13 am

    You’re also with me and Anne Coulter.

    I have no idea why this wasn’t done when Hillary Clinton was asking questions about his citizenship during the election campaign.

    I believe it was you, Mike, that said showing the true birth certificate would give credence to the birthers. How absurd to think that showing proof of the truth would empower absurdity. He made things much worse by what he did. Is he that out of touch?

    Showing one meets the constitutional requirements to be president seems logical to me.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 29, 2011 at 9:19 am

      Dealing with folks like the birthers does present something of a dilemma. On the one hand, engaging with them can give them a legitimacy they can use to advance their own ends. On the other hand, not engaging with them allows them to keep the noise going.

      Obama did show he met the requirements long ago. As such, there was no legal or rational need for him to “prove” what has already been proven.

      I think Rove is being rather smart about trying to get people to drop the birther issue. It will not help the Republicans in 2012 and a presidential candidate who insists on playing that sort of game will most likely hurt their credibility with independents. A better strategy is to focus on the issues. If Obama is as horrible as some folks claim, he should be easy enough to beat.

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