The Return of the Panachurian Candidate

Was John McCain's place of birth as big an issue to the fringe left as Obama's has been (and continues to be) to the fringe right?

The comment thread in Doug Mataconis’ post on the ongoing ridiculousness that is the birther movement spawned an accusation that the Obama camp made a big deal about the fact that John McCain was born in the Canal Zone in Panama.

My recollection of that issue was that it was treated primarily as a novelty topic (and had been raised in 2000 as well in the same fashion) and that whatever “serious” (scare quotes quite intentional) attempts to make it an issue came from McCain’s right flank, not from the Democrats.

I wrote two posts on the subject at PoliBlog at the time: John McCain: The Panachurian Candidate and The The Panachurian Candidate: La Segunda.. At the time the only example that I noted of someone asserting that McCain’s place of birth would be a potential problem was from a fellow associated with the Constitution Party (see:here).

Doing a quick Google tour this morning of “McCain ineligible Panama” reveals a self-described Libertarian arguing that McCain should have been declared ineligible, FreeRepublic thread on the subject, a post at Ron Paul’s web site explaining that while some of Paul’s followers might not like it, McCain was eligible, and a NewsMax piece (which was Birther Central for a while) opined that while McCain was probably eligible, that maybe his place of birth could be used to oust him from the race.

The first couple of pages of the search does not reveal any massive discussion on leftward sites of McCain’s place of birth. And, indeed, it is quite clear that Obama’s birth place has always been a exponentially larger story.

I would further hypothesize that such interest in these matters was more likely to occur on the fringe right because, on balance, folks in that category often act as if they have special insights into what the Constitution means. Further, in this particular case, McCain was hardly their favorite candidate.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Rob in Denver says:

    The irony in all of the Birther nonsense — whether directed at Obama or McCain — is that it largely originated within their respective parties.

  2. Maggie Mama says:

    Oh please. Both of McCain’s parents were American-born and his father was serving in the US Military.

    The Left attacked McCain to reduce the impact of the right going after Obama … because only one of his parents was American … the other was a Muslim Kenyan with Communist leanings.

  3. Franklin says:

    Furthermore, Congress specifically passed a bill to guarantee that McCain was eligible, proposed by a Democrat and voted for by many Democrats including Obama. The main detractor was Ron Paul who thought it was unconstitutional.

  4. Jay Tea says:

    As the guy who brought up the topic, let me show what prompted my bringing it up:

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=&q=%22New+York+Times%22+McCain+Panama+birth&sourceid=navclient-ff&rlz=1B3GGLL_enUS382US383&ie=UTF-8

    Remember, this is the New York Times, that endorsed McCain — and once he pretty much had the nomination sewn up, released stories accusing him of having an affair with a lobbyist and started hitting hard on the McCain birth story.

    It also endorsed Obama, and followed that up with such incisive, hard-hitting, well-investigated reports on his background like… well, nothing.

    It almost looks like the Times picked the Republican they thought would be the easiest to take down to endorse…

    J.

  5. Jay Tea says:

    Oh, and Franklin? No such law was passed. The Congress passed a non-binding resolution declaring it, but it has has about as much legal weight as declaring National Inverted Nipples Week.

    J.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    My recollection was that the complaint against McCain’s status came earlier in the cycle, perhaps because it had perculated from his earlier Presidential run. I’m not sure Obama was considered as probable a winner of his party’s nomination until later. By the time, Obama had won, lawsuits were being filed, in which the McCain court decisions were being cited.

    Anyway, I think the main difference is that Obama has remained relevant longer than McCain.

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Maggie, you hit the nail on the head. The left, and those who lean that way want to place the emphasis on where rather than to whom a person is born. The definion of a “natural born citizen” is a person born of parents who are both citizens. Senator McCain meets that requirement inspite of the fact he was born on foreign soil. Obama on the other hand, does not meet that requirement no matter where he was born. At best, Obama was born with duel citizenship. His father was not a U.S. citizen and was only subject of our laws while in our land. The reasoning behind that requirement can easily be seen in how Obama has snubbed the UK and those who represent her. From the return of the bust of Sir Winston Churchill to his treatment of the British PM. His “gift” to the Queen of England of an Ipod with HIS SPEECHES recorded on it. Most of our recent Presidents have had a special relationship with his British counterpart. Not Obama who carries animus towards Americas greatest ally based on family history rather than what is best for his nation. Those blinded by their ideology will, of course, deny all of this, but history will bear me out.

  8. jwest says:

    The question for Obama is devastating in its simplicity.

    Why not release the records?

  9. Franklin says:

    Jay Tea- perhaps my mistake, I thought that it was this actual proposal that was passed: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/29/us/politics/29mccain.html.

    Still, very few people from the left mentioned this McCain eligibility thing. I was reading several blogs of either persuasion during that campaign season, and this was never a hot topic or even seriously discussed.

  10. Franklin says:

    The question for birthers is devastating in its simplicity.

    Why not believe the records that have been released?

  11. wr says:

    Zels – Please cite the place in the constitution where a “natural born citizen” is defined as having been born of parents who are both citizens. Or cite the supreme court decision that defined the phrase that way.

    Of course you can’t, because neither exists. But I urge you to try, or even to cite the place you have learned this “fact.”

    I am calling you a liar, Zels. Man enough to prove me wrong?

  12. PJ says:

    “The definion of a “natural born citizen” is a person born of parents who are both citizens. Senator McCain meets that requirement inspite of the fact he was born on foreign soil.”

    Have you seen the DNA tests that proves that McCain’s father was John S. McCain, Jr.?
    Have you seen the DNA tests that proves that George W. Bush’s father is George H. W. Bush?
    Have you seen the DNA tests that proves that Bill Clinton’s father was William Jefferson Blythe, Jr.?
    etc

    Because if any of them can’t prove by DNA testing that their father is actually who he is claimed to be on the birth certificate, then obviously they can’t be president either. (Probably should test their mothers too, they might have been swapped at birth.)
    And if they do share their DNA with both their parents, then their parents need to be checked too, who knows, they might have done a Don Draper and stolen the identity of a god fearing natural born citizen so that they their child would be allowed become president.

  13. anjin-san says:

    jwest…

    Did you get a nice tin foil hat for Christmas?

  14. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    WR, have someone google it for you as you seem to be incapable of doing so. WR, I am man enough to make you give up your lunch money. WR, where in the Constition is anything defined? What a punk! Since there appears to be no legal definition at the time it was written and signed, we (not you WR but people capable of reason) must refer to what was common law at the time. There is only one place where the term “natual born citizen” is used and that being the requirement for being President. Since Obama could not be grandfathered in by the exception listed, one must if well reasoned, only conclude Obama is not a natual born citizen. He is however a natural citizen as he had one parent who was a citizena. WR you are an example of what happens when you learn history from communists. If you sincerely wish for me to prove my manliness maybe we should meet on a field of honor, except you are without honor.

  15. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    We know, Anjin that you did not get a hat as it is hard to place on an ass.

  16. anjin-san says:

    Zels are you thinking about my ass again? I mean, I look good in jeans and everything, but come on…

  17. wr says:

    Zels — I have Googled and I have searched and I have learned that there is no law, statute, decision, or any kind of rendering that defines “natural born citizen” the way you choose to. And then you go ahead and admit this definition doesn’t exist — but somehow you’ve come to the conclusion that when there is a lack of clarity in the constitution, the legal definition is whatever you choose to say it is.

    That’s absolutely true — if you are Antonin Scalia and you have your four little monkeys to vote your line.

    But you’re not. You’re just a clown. There is absolutely no truth to your moronic rule for establishing who is and is not a “natural born citizen,” and it’s nice of you to admit it, even if you seem to believe you are somehow proving your case by explaining that there is no legal definition for the phrase.

  18. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    You dumb f er, go look up the term “natural born citizen” have someone read what it says to you as you are incapable of understanding what it said. This issue has never been before the supreme court or any other court as it was understood except by IDIOTS who failed to learn wRep. John A. Bingham commenting on Section 1992 said it means “every human being born within the jurisdiction of the United States of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty is, in the language of your Constitution itself, a natural born citizen.” (Cong. Globe, 39th, 1st Sess., 1291 (1866))

    I cut and pasted that last part.

  19. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    WRong. I did not use google I used Yahoo search. Google might be a bit bias.

  20. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    On the other hand, citizenship by descent through the father is natural law. When a child inherits the citizenship of their father through natural law they become a natural-born citizen of the nation their father belongs regardless of where they might be born. All natural-born citizens are also native born of the location of their birth, but not all native born are natural-born citizens.

    I know, WR, it is not in your perview that Obama’s daddy was a British citizen, but he was and that would make Barack Hussein Obama Jr. a British citizen due to his fathers citizenship. If he changed it, he cannot be a natural born citizen. Is there some part of that you cannot understand. Question for you. Why do you think that little codicile was written into the requirement?

  21. An Interested Party says:

    “It almost looks like the Times picked the Republican they thought would be the easiest to take down to endorse…”

    Indeed! Because the New York Times single-handedly turned the election in the president’s favor…

    “The question for Obama is devastating in its simplicity.

    Why not release the records?”

    Oh yes, I’m sure the president is enormously devastated…

    “If you sincerely wish for me to prove my manliness maybe we should meet on a field of honor, except you are without honor.”

    Would your unemployment checks finance a trip to that field or would you need to take out a loan on your trailer (assuming it’s already paid off, of course)?

    “I cut and pasted that last part.”

    And we all applaud your technical expertise in being able to do that…

  22. wr says:

    Zels — The United States is not governed by “natural law.” We have a constitution these days, and that is the law of the land. Really, you should check it out some day.

    Oh, and if the supreme court has not defined “natural born citizen,” that does not mean you get to invent your own definition and then demand the country live by it. You have no sway, you have no power, you have no meaning. You’re just a semi-literate internet troll living off the government he hates.

    “Natural law.” What a moron.

  23. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Hey stupid, WR, you can suck M D. I do not live off the government and I probably pay more in taxes than you make. The issue has not come before the supreme court as it has not been an issue before this fake lied his way into being elected. Sorry about inviting you to do something you like to do anyway. I have an IQ tested at 143. I doubt yours is any higher than any combination of two of those numbers, that would be 13, 14, 31, 41 34, 43. Judging by you responses and grasp of where laws come from I suggest one of the last three combos.
    IP, ignorant party. I paid off my house in 1984. A little over 2000 square feet. Two car garage, three bedrooms. Name the place punk.

  24. PD Shaw says:

    There is no definition, which provides ample ground for anyone to say whatever they feel. Touchy feely concepts used to be a “left” bugaboo, as well placing great store on a strong judiciary to run amok over the political process.

    Also, conservatives used to believe in process-focused inquiry. If you screw up and fail to timely request a lawyer, who cares, you had your chance? Most of the Obama litigation arose after the time period for challenging his place on the ballot. And most of it done incorrectly.

  25. wr says:

    Gee, Zels, does this mean you actually got a job? Because you were whining about living on unemployment at the same time you were whining about those terrible greedy people who took unemployment payments. I guess when your IQ is so high it’s hard to keep those simple facts straight.

    And here’s another brain twister — the fact that the supreme court has not defined “natural born citizen” does not mean that your idiotic interpretation wins the day. And in fact, here’s a little clue for you — when clown queen Orly Taitz tried to take this issue to the supreme court, the two most conservative justices, Alito and Thomas, laughed her out of the place. The issue has not come before the supreme court because the supreme court says it is not an issue.

    And yes, Zels, I’m sure you pay more in taxes than I make working as a TV writer-producer and novelist and university professor. What exactly do you do? I’ve always assumed what living you make comes from scraping roadkill up and selling it down at the local BBQ pit, but now that I learn you make so much money — even while collecting unemployment — I am simply quivering with curiousity.

  26. Rob in Denver says:

    Most Birthers over look the following parts of Constitution (from Article One for those interested in playing the home game):

    From Section 8 (Enumerated Powers):

    To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States; (See United States v. Wong Kim Ark for the Supreme Court’s interpretation of what “natural born citizen” means. It draws a direct line back to English Common Law, and it drives Birthers batty.)

    To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof. (See Title 8 of the US Code for applicable law that defines who is and who is not a citizen at birth [see above for the definition of “citizen at birth”]. This also drives Brithers batty.)

  27. anjin-san says:

    Its is interesting that someone as brilliant and successful as Zels is so angry.

  28. Steve Plunk says:

    I went back and reread ZR’s original post. It didn’t insult anyone yet the responses to it were little more than insults and threats. Is that all the lefties have? Can they not carry on a civil conversation when they disagree? Once provoked ZR played by their rules as is his right.

    I’ve noticed some of the OTB members like to put these unimportant, outdated topics back into play now and again. They serve no real purpose yet they can’t let them lie. It’s as though they like to see the fireworks. Whether it be this or discussion of Sarah Palin I can’t help but think there are better topics to put out for discussion.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    Oh Zelsdorf, you’re so adorable when you are mad…if your IQ really is as high as you claim it is, you probably wouldn’t allow yourself to be so easily baited…

    re: PD Shaw Monday, December 27, 2010 18:40

    Funny how the tables have turned, eh?

    “Is that all the lefties have? Can they not carry on a civil conversation when they disagree?”

    Awwww…that is just so touching! And to think that some people think that chivalry is dead! Actually, if anyone wanted to play by Zelsdorf’s rules, he/she would be threatening violence against others on a regular basis…good luck finding evidence that the “lefties” around here have been doing that…

  30. Grewgills says:

    WRong. I did not use google I used Yahoo search. Google might be a bit bias.

    Poe
    and my new favorite Ragshaft quote

  31. anjin-san says:

    Plunk and Zels. Water really does seek it’s own level.

  32. sam says:

    Zelsdorf’s “argument” leads to a remarkable conclusion. The argument goes like this.

    1. Someone is a natural-born citizen of the United States if and only if that person’s father is a natural-born citizen of the United States:

    citizenship by descent through the father is natural law. When a child inherits the citizenship of their father through natural law they become a natural-born citizen of the nation their father belongs [to] regardless of where they might be born.

    2. Now, since, according to the argument, Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States, and his children inherit his citizenship, neither Sasha nor Malia are natural-born citizens of the United States, and this taint cannot be expunged even if the girls went over to the British Embassy and renounced their “citizenship”–because the taint attaches at the time of birth and is ineradicable. This taint could be expunged for the children of Sasha and Malia if the girls marry a natural-born male citizen of the United States. But suppose the Obama’s have a son. He is not a natural-born citizen of the United States, as he inherits his father non-natural-born status. Moreover, and here is the remarkable conclusion, no child of Obama’s son could ever be a natural-born citizen of the United States, since those children would inherit the non-natural born status from their father, who in turn inherited his from Barrack Obama. Now note, this can be made perfectly general: If anyone of us has a male ancestor who lived in the United States and the time of the birth of his childre, and who was not a natural-born citizen of the United States, and we can trace our direct lineage back to that man through the male line, we are not natural-born citizens of the United States, no matter if our family has been in the country for over 200 years.

    Everybody happy with that? I’m pretty sure, on this argument, one could show that Ronald Reagan was not eligible to become president of the United States.

  33. sam says:

    Let me clean that up a bit (fat-fingered the typing):

    If anyone of us has a male ancestor who lived in the United States at the time of the birth of his children and who was not a natural-born citizen of the United States, and we can trace our direct lineage back to that man through the male line, we are not natural-born citizens of the United States, no matter if our family has been in the country for over 200 years.

  34. sam says:

    “See United States v. Wong Kim Ark for the Supreme Court’s interpretation of what “natural born citizen” means.”

    As much as I’d like to believe that, alas, Won Ark Kim does not do that. It establishes that someone born in this country is a citizen of this country (via the 14th Amendment), but does not dislodge Zelsdorf’s claim about the meaning of “natural born citizen”. Zelsdorf’s “argument” is that although Kim was a citizen of the United States by virtue of being born here, he was not a “natural born citizen” of the United States because of his father’s citizenship (China). But, as I said, that argument leads to a remarkable and, I’d think we’d all agree, profoundly counterintuitive conclusion.

  35. PD Shaw says:

    sam, not sure it’s that remarkable; I’m willing to bet that any British laws that limited naturalization to a male line, also limited naturalization to Protestants (and perhaps Jews). I’d like to petition the SCOTUS to put an asterisk by JFK’s name.

  36. sam says:

    PD, in the American context it’s remarkable that someone could argue that, although my family has been in the country for over 200 years, he could show that I wasn’t a natural born citizen. What do you think the response would be (outside of Zelsworld, I mean)?

  37. PD Shaw says:

    I think it would cause the Constitution to be amended with something like the ERA. I guess my point though was that simply incorporating British naturalization law from the pre-revolution period would bring a lot more weirdness than the male bias, such as probable religious bias.

  38. Rob in Denver says:

    @sam:
    What is “natural born citizen” if not “citizen at birth”? Their equivalence seems rather clear. And while Wong Kim Ark doesn’t mention “nbc” directly, the Court’s opinion — as well the 14th — does strongly suggest the connection between the two.

    I grant you that the garden-variety Birther seems incapable of grasping the nuance.

  39. sam says:

    Well, you can see the argument set out completely in this (or as complete as I’ve found), Defining Natural-Born Citizen. One thing these folks like to quote is this:

    Rep. John A. Bingham commenting on Section 1992 said it means “every human being born within the jurisdiction of the United States of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty is, in the language of your Constitution itself, a natural born citizen.” (Cong. Globe, 39th, 1st Sess., 1291 (1866))

    I submit that that’s ambiguous. The phrase “of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty” is taken by the Zeldorfians as meaning that if one’s father owes allegiance, etc., then one is not a natural born citizen. However, I think the phrase can also be understood as asserting that both parents must owe their allegiance to a foreign sovereignty for you to be deemed not natural born. I.e., If one of your parents is an American citizen and you are born within the jurisdiction of the United States, you are a natural born citizen. To read it otherwise, I think, compels the conclusion I offered: It will turn out that there’s a damn lot of us who are not natural born citizens of the United States even though our families have been in this country for hundreds of years. And, that I maintain, is an absurd conclusion.

  40. mantis says:

    Remember, this is the New York Times, that endorsed McCain — and once he pretty much had the nomination sewn up, released stories accusing him of having an affair with a lobbyist and started hitting hard on the McCain birth story.

    It also endorsed Obama, and followed that up with such incisive, hard-hitting, well-investigated reports on his background like… well, nothing.

    Obama was born in one of the United States of America. McCain was born at a naval air station in the Panama Canal Zone. Are you saying that the newspaper should have published a story discussing whether someone born in the United States is a citizen? Where’s the debate? The Constitution is very clear on that issue.

    As for investigative reports into Obama’s background, you have the New York Times looking into drug use in his youth here, his years at Columbia here, and his law school years here. I guess those probably aren’t good enough, and you would only have been happy if they just made stuff up.

  41. PD Shaw says:

    What is “natural born citizen” if not “citizen at birth”?

    One of the problems here is there are different arguments for the relevant time period for the terminology:

    1. 1788 — what the term meant when the Constitution is ratified is what the Constitutional requirement means needs today. Since there was no real discussion of the term during the Convention, nor was it a legal term of art at the time, one must look at English statutory and common law, and the laws of the colonials.

    2. 1790 — Congress passed the first immigration and naturalization law, revealing the best evidence of the framer’s intent on the meaning of citizenship. If a person would have been a citizen under this law, then he/she is eligible for President.

    3. Various — As the U.S. became an imperial power with overseas commitments, Congress updated and expanded ideas of citizenship for changing circumstances. To be a natural born citizen, one need only be a citizen under whatever laws apply at the time of one’s birth.

    I think 1 is the preferred for birthers, 2 is the traditional view and 3 is the modern/emerging view.

    I prefer none of the above. All of these ideas have problems and therefore the voters should decide.

  42. PD Shaw says:

    Mantis, the Courts have ruled that the Canal Zone is not a part of the U.S. There are reasonable questions about McCain’s eligiblity. Here’s a law review article explaining them:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract-id=1157621

    Essentially, McCain’s problem is that when he was born, the legislation did not give people born in the Canal Zone automatic citizenship, although people born of American parents in “Panama proper” were automatically born as citizens. It’s simply the result of a poorly constructed set of legislation that failed to cover areas that were neither part of the U.S., nor truly foreign territory. The canal zone law was changed before McCain was one years old.

  43. mantis says:

    Mantis, the Courts have ruled that the Canal Zone is not a part of the U.S. There are reasonable questions about McCain’s eligiblity.

    Yeah, that’s what I was referring to, however obliquely. My point was that at least McCain’s birth raised a legitimate legal question. My view on McCain is quite simple. He was not a citizen of any country other than the US when born, and he was not required to go through any naturalization procedure, therefore he is a natural born US citizen. We only have two types of citizens: natural and naturalized. Contrast Obama, who was born in the State of Hawaii, a situation which in Jay Tea’s mind presents a legitimate citizenship question equivalent to that of McCain’s, such that he believes the New York Times should have “investigated” it.

    I prefer none of the above. All of these ideas have problems and therefore the voters should decide.

    The voters should decide what, exactly?

  44. PD Shaw says:

    “The voters should decide what, exactly?”

    Generally speaking, who should be President, or more specifically whether the candidate is qualified. I do not beleive there are adequate standards for courts to rule on whether a person is a “natural born citizen” since the term was not a legal term of art when the Constitution was ratified, it wasn’t discussed or debated in the Convention and remains a cypher today.

    I would invoke the political question doctrine and argue there is no justiciable standard to apply and let politics decide these questions.

  45. sam says:

    And besides, wasn’t the “natural born citizen” language was put in for fear some underhanded, scheming, sonofabitch cryptoroyalist would sneak into the country, pass himself off as a citizen, get elected president, declare the constitution unconstitutional, and force us to eat blood pudding everyday?

  46. PD Shaw says:

    sam, that’s what I think. And thus the purpose of the language would be met by prohibiting special legislation concerning citizenship. The apparent fear was that the Congress would naturalize Count Mountjoy of the Grand Duchy of Fenwick in order for him to be installed as a virtual monarch in the office of the Presidency. It was not unheard of under British law for the parliament to make such special laws to benefit specific persons, a practice that increasingly became distasteful in the states. (Many states outlaw “special” legislation in their constitutions, meaning non-uniform laws).

    The Courts could police this concern, as state courts do, by prohibiting naturalization laws that are non-uniform. Congress is actually only empowered to pass “uniform” naturalization laws, from which I would argue, it cannot specifically designate Arnold Schwarzenegger to be a natural-born citizen, but it could designate that class of Iraqis who immigrated to the States after fighting in the GWOT to be natural born citizens.

    This would be my preferred fallback position to the courts simply staying out of it.