Warner Todd Huston
Jefferson and Obama's birth certificate: My reply to Michael Gaynor
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By Warner Todd Huston
December 10, 2008

On Tuesday morning of December 10, I sent out my piece titled "Thomas Jefferson says forget about Barack's birth certificate." I was sure it would raise the hackles of those vested in the Barack Obama birth certificate issue, abbreviated as COLB (certificate of live birth) by those so inclined to care about it. Boy was I right. My email has been stuffed with accusations that I hate the Constitution or am secretly an Obama supporter despite that in my original piece I clearly called the man a socialist whom I didn't want in the Oval Office.

But, I felt we need an actual discussion, not of Obama's birth itself, but of the Constitutional, electoral, and philosophical issues that underlay the debate. Fortunately, Michael Gaynor of RenewAmerica.com obliged. To that end and to his piece, I'd like to take some time to reply here, being sure to thank him for at least allowing that I was "well-intentioned" with my original consideration of the matter.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gaynor starts out right off the top with a misconception of what I am saying and it misinforms his entire take on my piece. He writes:

    BUT, Jefferson never indicated that constitutional qualifications should be ignored...In fact, Jefferson warned us to nip corruption, tyranny and error in the bud.

The mistake that Mr. Gaynor makes is to imagine I was claiming that Jefferson was an advocate of ignoring "Constitutional qualifications." However, I was not and am not saying he did. In fact, in my piece I actually said the following: "I absolutely agree with you that we are a nation of laws and not men. Jefferson did too, once saying that we must consider what the original intent of the Constitution was before we rush into a decision..."

I certainly acknowledged that Jefferson would not be ready to offhandedly jettison the Constitution and neither should we.

Gaynor next said that he doesn't "think that it's too much to expect the President-Elect... to demonstrate that he is qualified before he takes the presidential oath." This was said as if I might disagree with the sentiment that we should assure that all candidates are properly vetted before they run for that office. I answered to that one in my original piece, as well. I said that, "we should take pains to verify the provenance of every candidate's claim to natural citizenship." So, obviously I want to be sure every candidate satisfies the Constitutional requirements before they are allowed to run for office.

Gaynor's next point was to remind me that we are a republic and not a direct democracy. Mr. Gaynor says that "the United States Constitution is supposed to be the supreme law of the land and its amendment procedure is supposed to be followed if it is to be amended." Naturally, this is true enough. And I must not hesitate to say that I agree 100% with this point.

As things go, the rule-of-law-or-rule-of-man argument (which I did bring up) should generally come down on the rule-of-law side of the equation. I am not suggesting in the least that we should suddenly become a full democracy with all the wild swings in mood that would entail. The founders didn't want that and I don't either. But, we have to get back to my point of mitigation. The Constitution is NOT a suicide pact.

If we are fully to apply Mr. Gaynor's stark black and white logic to the Constitution, there would never have been, for instance, a legitimate reason to attack slavery, the heinous practice that was basically sanctified — without ever using the actual word "slavery" — in that document. In fact, were we Americans to so strictly observe that rule of law as entirely, unbendingly sacrosanct, we'd all be speaking English today... well, at least still under Great Britain's wing, as it were.

What I am saying here is that there are times when we have to decide between options in a reasoned, logical way to define the direction in which our country will go. In fact, Jefferson himself obviated the Constitution several times when in office. So did Lincoln, FDR and Wilson, among a host of other presidents and Supreme Courts for that matter.

Once in a while, one simply must make the hard decision and our system is flexible enough to withstand the results of that decision.

Mr. Gaynor did allow himself a bit of an emotional outburst against me with the following jab:

    It seems that Mr. Huston believes that conservatives need to docilely accept the election because the Left did NOT accept the election result in 2000.

It is an absurd claim to make of me that I was saying conservatives should "docilely accept the election." That was an overly emotive jab that had no place in a reasoned discussion. Obviously I was not advocating any docility at all. At the tail of the piece I reiterated that we should oppose Barack Obama in the normal political process.

Of opposing Obama I said:

    Believe me, I don't want this clearly socialist man as our president. I think he will do us some damage. I want his policies stifled as much as you do. So, let us oppose this man certainly. But let us do it manfully and in the spirit of our most cherished ideal.

That doesn't sound so "docile" to me!

Mr. Gaynor goes on with another point I agree with in principle. "The problem with fraud is not that the defrauded failed to act in good faith," he says, "but that the defrauder did not act in good faith."

Yes, of course. And if Obama purposefully defrauded the American people, his reputation will seriously hurt from it.

Gaynor again:

    That assumes that the voters simply did not care whether the President-Elect met the constitutional requirements to serve as President and I have no reason to assume that. Mr. Huston thinks that accepting the President-Elect, assuming he is not a "natural-born citizen," supports the electoral process.

I am a bit confused by the wording here, but I think Mr. Gaynor is saying that he thinks the people would be upset that Obama is not a natural born citizen and that it would seriously change America's minds if he turns out to be of foreign birth. In truth, I really AM saying that the voters won't care that he was foreign born. This is one of the main reasons why attacking him over this issue will seriously backfire on us if we do it.

The state of education on WHY the foreign born should not be president is so deficient in this country at this time that the argument would more likely result in the Constitution being changed to accommodate Obama than in the issue getting him kicked to the curb. I believe that enough people would rise up in support of Obama that "change" would, indeed, occur and it is a change I do not want to see come; a change in the very Constitution itself.

We need to take this mess as a lesson and be sure all candidates in the future meet the requirements. But attacking Obama now on this issue will cause unintended consequences that will not be desired by either of us, Mr. Gaynor.

Should we take your advice and attack Obama over his COLB, Mr. Gaynor, I firmly believe that we will see far more damage to this country than if we, with reason and sober consideration, decide to just let it go and seat Obama anyway.

Your fight against a popularly elected president will cause conservatives the sort of damage that will cause their reputations to take a nosedive for decades if not cause them to utterly disappear from politics altogether. Do you really think that conservatives can long survive the reputation of not caring what "the people" think? How long can a party that seems to stand against elections exist in a democratic system — whether a republican one or not?

Secondly, we already have an electoral system with an integrity seriously damaged by general assumptions of corruption and unfairness. Would it easily survive the exclusion of a president that was elected with a clear majority, especially one so close on the tail of the 2000 election? Whether it was rightly or wrongly decided in 2000, stopping Obama over a question like this now will simply add fuel to wide spread feeling that the elections cannot be trusted. (This is why Nixon let his chance to dispute the election in 1960 pass unaccepted as I mentioned in my original piece)

Now, the last several times we had major problems with our presidential elections, massive changes in our system occurred (those of Jefferson/John Adams and Jackson/J.Q.Adams, for instance). Are you so willing to risk massive changes to occur in THIS climate, one where most of our citizens haven't a clue about why that system is a good one in the first place and cynicism runs rampant? If you are, I'd suggest you'd have little justification to be angry over the inevitable changes that don't suit your sensibilities. It is the old warning of being careful for what you wish that I invoke, here.

It also hasn't ceased to amaze me how easily folks such as yourself have dispensed with my argument that the "will of the people" is of supreme importance. If you look over election law the single most common issue at the core of every decision has been just that, the will of the voter. The letter of the law has been of far lesser import to the courts when adjudicating election conflicts. If we take this matter to court, we will only serve to show that we don't care what the voters said this November and, in light of the precedent in election decisions of the past, we will lose anyway. The will of the voter will be deemed most important and Obama will be seated as president despite our attempts to stop him. Then the backlash will begin.

The will of the people has been at the heart of every major consideration in our nation's history and not just in election law. Yet now, just to stop a president you don't like, you are willing to prove that you don't care about that will firmly and obviously expressed by the people? Don't you see the repercussions of this blatant disregard for the will of the voters?

You do, indeed, want to make of the Constitution a suicide pact, it seems to me.

Lastly, I must reiterate that I do not approach this whole issue lightly. It is not a simple decision. On the other hand, it is not as black and white an issue as you want it to be, either. It is a tough nut to crack and we should approach it soberly.

In any case, Mr, Gaynor, thanks for this spirited debate on this serious issue. Your reply to my piece is a far cry from the many replies I got in my email box over the last day. One would imagine that if emails could be written with a fat crayon from a kid's coloring kit, many of the ones that I got yesterday would have been so scribbled. Debate is good. Especially amongst ourselves. For if we don't challenge each other, we will surely suffer for it.

© Warner Todd Huston

 

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Warner Todd Huston

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