Well, that didn’t take long. A non-white American citizen born right here in the United States has gotten a spot on the Democratic presidential ticket, and the birthers have come scurrying out from whatever rock they have been living under since Barack Obama left office.
Within hours of former Vice President Joe Biden’s announcement Wednesday of his history-making running mate, once-reputable Newsweek posted a story posing “Some Questions for Kamala Harris About Eligibility.”
The author, John Eastman, a conservative law professor, wrote that “some” are “questioning” whether Harris might be “constitutionally ineligible” to be vice president because, should she have to step into the presidency, she might not meet the Constitution’s Article II requirement that this country’s chief executive be a “natural born” citizen.
Harris is the daughter of immigrants. Her father (from Jamaica) and her mother (from India) were not citizens at the time of her birth in 1964. A birth that—stay with me here, because this is important—happened in Oakland, Calif., which was then and is now in the United States of America. That means Harris was a U.S. citizen from the first second of her life.
The theoretical and esoteric question of whether first-generation Americans are eligible to be president is booted around from time to time in law-professor circles. It’s something of a parlor game, rooted in case law from the 19th century.
In the real world, it is made moot by history: At least a half-dozen U.S. presidents have been the sons of immigrants, a possibility that is actually part of the American Dream of opportunity that has lured people to our shores for centuries.
But—funny coincidence—it seems to arise in modern presidential politics only when the candidate in question is a non-white Democrat.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the 2016 GOP primary, was born in Calgary, Alberta, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 nominee, on a naval installation in the Panama Canal Zone. Going further back, George Romney’s birth in Mexico did not arise during the Michigan governor’s brief run for president in 1968, nor did it ever become an issue that Arizona was not yet a state when 1964 Republican nominee Barry Goldwater was born there in 1909.
For those of us in the media, a dilemma arises in dealing with deplorable and racist tactics such as these. Do we ignore them, or call them out for what they are? Trump’s demands for Obama’s birth certificate were nonsense, but polls showed that about a quarter of Americans—and nearly half of Republicans—believed the lie that Obama was not born in the United States.
Newsweek defends its decision to publish Eastman’s tripe, though it initially failed to include a relevant bit of biographical information: The author in 2010 ran for attorney general of California. He lost the Republican primary to a candidate who was subsequently trounced by … Kamala Harris.