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Dear Arizona, If Obama's Not American, Then Neither Are You

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Tim McGettigan     Permalink
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In a recent email exchange, Ken Bennett, Arizona's sitting Republican Secretary of State, dredged up a particularly malodorous scoop of political muck by stating that "if Hawaii can't or won't provide verification of the president's birth certificate, I will not put his name on the ballot." 

The idea that any US President would be required to flash his ID in order to legitimize his presidency represents a monumental presumption on the part of Obama's detractors--no matter what their political aspirations happen to be.* Please understand, I'm not suggesting that we should treat US presidents like sacred cows. Far from it. Presidents are simply regular folks who have found some way to percolate to the top of the national political hierarchy. As such, being as fallible as anyone else, presidents must be held accountable. This means that presidents should be praised for their successes and castigated for their mistakes. Nothing helps to ensure a higher standard of leadership than exacting public scrutiny. The more, the better.

That said, the campaign to paint Obama as an undocumented alien deviates dramatically from the rational road of constructive political criticism. Birthers' shrill protestations are not intended to help Barack Obama become a more effective president, rather, their goal is to invalidate our forty-fourth president's mandate: Barack the Pretender, an "other" who lacks the birthright to legitimately occupy the lofty office that he has earned.

Clearly, this claptrap is born of the same spirit that perpetuated Jim Crow well into the twentieth century. In the past, US presidents have never been asked to produce proof of citizenship because, quite simply, they were all a bunch of white guys. And, since white guys have been running the world for a long time, it just seems natural for white guys to continue doing so.

Then, along comes Barack Obama, a president who doesn't quite fit the Mount Rushmore image. Heaven forfend!! Yet, by any measure, Barack Obama is a brilliant political strategist who, in spite of his humble origins, managed to rise meteorically to the very apex of the US political establishment. Certainly, there have been similar rags-to-riches success stories among US presidents and, like Abraham Lincoln, path-breaking political leaders of this stripe tend to be graced with exceptional talent. For example, does anyone recall that George W. Bush dumped the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression on his successor? Though it required a herculean effort, President Obama managed to prevent the worst extremes of that particular crisis: a decade of 20-30% unemployment with Hoovervilles, hunger and every other form of economic hardship stalking the land. Instead, the Obama Administration succeeded in getting the country back on its feet again--admittedly, the one-percenters have reaped the lion's share of the benefits from the recovery thus far--before the midterm elections. Truly, an historic feat of economic wizardry.

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Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. Since Obama's detractors can't attack him on his record, they have had to search for other, more scurrilous means with which to besmirch his character. Thus, stooping about as low as a snake in the grass can go, birthers have raked up the deplorable muck of American racism. None too subtly, birthers have asserted that because Obama doesn't fit the demographic profile of a typical American president, Obama can't really be the president.

Well, I must admit that birthers and I do agree on one particular point: Obama is not a typical US president. He's a heck of a lot smarter than most.**

Obama may not be typical, but I'm happy to say that his is the new face of America, the Land of Opportunity. Birthers may not like it, but Obama's ascendancy is an illustration of the fact that democracy is not dead. Though democracy will ever and always remain a work in progress, on Obama's watch the US has narrowed the gap between our democratic principles and practices. Would that we could say as much about all US Presidents.

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*Bennett is reported to be in the process of establishing the essential ultraright-wing creds to displace the right-wing occupant of the Arizona Governor's office. 

**The other post-millennial president leaps to mind here
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Prof Tim teaches sociology at CSU-Pueblo and he writes books about social change, such as... A Formula for Eradicating Racism, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/113759974X


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