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Aliens vs. Predators

A modest proposal to open up the presidency of the United States to international talent and make sure Dick Gephardt never runs again

By Art O'Sullivan

We've all heard about the proposed constitutional amendment to make Arnold Schwarzenegger eligible to become president of the United States.

OK, it's really a proposal to let people born in other countries be president, although Arnie is the candidate favored by a few evidently desperate Republicans. But Democrats who recoil at the thought of Arnie in the West Wing can look to their own rising star, Jennifer Granholm, who was born in British Columbia, Canada, and is now the very popular governor of Michigan. Changing the rules would also permit such distinguished individuals as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski--both born in Europe--to attain the highest office in this land.

The nation's founders carved into the constitution a prohibition against foreign-born people becoming president because they were afraid the just-ejected British might take over again by slipping their guy into the White House. About as many Americans opposed the revolution as favored it, and a U.S. presidential election with the king of England on the ballot might've turned out very badly for the infant republic. A reasonable fear at the time, but that was forever ago; today Britain is America's staunchest ally. Times change, and so should the law, this amendment's supporters say.

Certainly there are good reasons why foreign-born people should be eligible to lead this country. Non-Americans usually speak more than one language, and many have a better grasp of history and geography than people born in this country. Most foreigners, for instance, actually know where Europe is. Many even know where to find Africa. (Easy--when you bump into Europe, just hang a right.) Natives of island nations in particular have been forced to make connections with the rest of the world, more than your typical American, who can only see from sea to shining sea--beyond which, who knows? Just think of all the times you've had to choose between American-born politicians who think the universe revolves around the U.S.A.--despite what Galileo's followers are telling our children in the public schools.

But amending the U.S. Constitution is no easy matter, and the proposed amendment, carried on Arnie's behalf by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, seems to have made little headway.

I believe this is because the Hatch proposal does not go far enough. It fails to address one of the main shortcomings of our current presidential selection system: the poor quality of most candidates made in America.

If we seriously want to blast some fresh air through the stagnant system, we need sweeping reform. To elevate the quality of our presidential choices, to honor this nation of immigrants and let at least a few of them fulfill the American dream, and to counteract American ignorance and xenophobia, this country needs a constitutional amendment that would permit only foreign-born people to become president.

No Americans Need Apply

The No Americans Need Apply (NANA) Amendment will stop all those shallow, inbred-in-the-U.S.A. presidential wannabes from milling around the Washington Beltway--every one of them possessed with the incurable conviction that if they hang in there long enough, the American people will see the light and turn to them for salvation. Under current law, there is no way to prevent these deluded people from running for president as often as they want. But when people born here are barred by law from becoming president, then the Gephardts and the Liebermans, the McCains and the Doles will just have to give it up. Constitutionally disqualifying our mediocre homegrown politicians will offer them a face-saving exit so they can stop squandering Americans' limited political attention span. After that, citizens will be free to choose among the best presidential candidates the rest of the world has to offer.

There is a downside to this. Under this NANA Amendment, a lot of fine people born in this country would never get to be president. But face it, you and I were pretty much out of the running already.

So let's close one door and open another. Just imagine the possible presidential candidates from around the world--people with the stature, vision and commitment to lead this great nation and the whole human race. We can only imagine who might get in on this. So let's do that.

* Nelson Mandela: Respected the world over, South Africa's first majority president is a natural leader. However, Mandela recently announced his retirement from public life and asked the world to please stop calling him, and he certainly deserves a break. Still, given the chance to command the world's only superpower, to lead the richest nation in a more enlightened direction, I'm betting he'd return that phone call.

* The Dalai Lama of Tibet: He was Tibet's religious leader and head of state until the Chinese army overran Tibet in the 1950s. The Dalai Lama fled into exile, where he remains. Pluses: Deeply respected, even revered spiritual leader. Experienced national leader and major figure on the world stage. Currently available. Minuses: Weak national security credentials. After all, he did lose his country to the Chinese Communists--this would almost certainly come up in the debates. Also, the Dalai Lama's overlapping church/state responsibilities in his previous job might make First Amendment advocates a bit queasy.

* Arianna Huffington: Born in Greece, she was the spouse and financial backer of an ambitious Republican politician until he crashed and burned. Huffington is now an anti-establishment columnist, and was recently a candidate in California's governor recall election. Arianna appeals to Americans' heartland sensibilities--during a televised gubernatorial debate last year, Arianna reminded viewers of Eva Gabor's character on TV's Green Acres as she traded one-liners with Arnold the pig. Minus: Her political conversion was remarkable enough to make some wonder about the depth of her latest convictions.

* British Prime Minister Tony Blair: No doubt Blair would leap at the chance to jump the pond and retake the colonies. Pluses: Totally pro-American. Not only has Tony buddied up first to Clinton, then to Bush, Blair's also spent years trying to snuff out Merry Olde England, to replace all those quaint idiosyncrasies with a high-tech, fast-food, made-in-America sort of Britain. Tony Blair really loves America, he deeply needs America, and he so desperately wants America to love and to need him. And Tony's more than happy to drive on the right. His love affair with Democrats is evidently over, but Tony Blair would accept the Republican presidential nomination "proudly yet humbly," and probably run as a "neocompassionate conservative" or something. Minuses: No one in Britain likes him anymore. And that guitar he occasionally sports has not been tuned since 1986.

* Bono: Pluses: U2's frontman has the charisma and the social consciousness of a populist firebrand. That voice is at once strong and plaintive, thus appealing to tough conservatives and sensitive liberals alike. A tireless campaigner, it was Bono who persuaded Bush's treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, to accompany him to Africa to see how some other folks live. Minus: Might not want to accept the pay cut. Also less impressive as a solo act.

* Neil Young: Pluses: Veteran Canadian rock superstar understands the difference between Southern California and Northern California. Neil appeals to hippie, yuppie and grunge interest groups, while his longstanding support for Farm Aid puts him in good standing with Middle American voters. Minuses: Supported Reagan in 1984. Notorious for quitting bands. Young's choice of a vice presidential running mate would be critical, as Neil's VP would probably inherit the big job midterm.

* Saddam Hussein: Although his current incarceration in U.S. hands would limit campaigning and his detractors are legion, we should not underestimate the Iraqi president who outlasted four of our own chiefs. Pluses: A proven vote-getter. Last time Saddam ran for re-election, he racked up over 99 percent of the vote--and nobody challenged those results. Minuses: Although he got along famously with the Reagan/Bush administration in the 1980s, Saddam has become a liability for the Republican establishment. He might mount a challenge in GOP primaries, but probably could not win the nomination.

Given a better choice of candidates, I believe the American people will choose wisely. I hope the NANA Amendment will get the full consideration it deserves--and not be ignored alongside Sen. Hatch's amendment, to which NANA is clearly superior. One last thing to consider: the NANA Amendment would also prevent Orrin Hatch from ever becoming president.

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From the August 25-September 1, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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