The Inevitable "Natural Born Citizen" Debate

The New York Times, which already declared its intent to thwart John McCain’s candidacy, is now following up its previous smear with another ridiculous story questioning whether John McCain is even eligible to be President of the United States, because of his place of birth.

The question has nagged at the parents of Americans born outside the continental United States for generations: Dare their children aspire to grow up and become president? In the case of Senator John McCain of Arizona, the issue is becoming more than a matter of parental daydreaming.

Mr. McCain’s likely nomination as the Republican candidate for president and the happenstance of his birth in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 are reviving a musty debate that has surfaced periodically since the founders first set quill to parchment and declared that only a “natural-born citizen” can hold the nation’s highest office.

Almost since those words were written in 1787 with scant explanation, their precise meaning has been the stuff of confusion, law school review articles, whisper campaigns and civics class debates over whether only those delivered on American soil can be truly natural born. To date, no American to take the presidential oath has had an official birthplace outside the 50 states.

“There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain or anyone else in this position is constitutionally qualified, but there is certainly no precedent,” said Sarah H. Duggin, an associate professor of law at Catholic University who has studied the issue extensively. “It is not a slam-dunk situation.”

Mr. McCain was born on a military installation in the Canal Zone, where his mother and father, a Navy officer, were stationed. His campaign advisers say they are comfortable that Mr. McCain meets the requirement and note that the question was researched for his first presidential bid in 1999 and reviewed again this time around.

Obviously since this has been vetted before, the New York Times really has no reason to try to inject new life to the claim. This seems quite typical of the Left smear tactics. When Mitt Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts, his Democrat opponents called his residency into question because he had been temporarily living in Utah to manage the Olympics. When Tom DeLay has retired from the House and moved to Virginia, Democrats challenged his residency (by saying he was still a resident of Texas) in order to keep him on the ballot.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Democrats pursue this. If they make any attempt to challenge McCain’s eligibility, then they will do so out of fear.