But there is a slight problem with Shelby's claim that "you have to be born in America to be president."
It isn't true.
Randall Hall, a Birmingham lawyer, has written a splendid analysis of U.S. Shelby's recent gaffe while speaking with constituents at the All Steak Restaurant in Cullman.
Shelby was asked to comment on a conspiracy theory making the rounds in right-wing circles--that Obama is not a U.S. citizen and thus not qualified to be president. The senator's response? As reported by Patrick McCreless in the Cullman Times, it was: "Well, his father was Kenyan, and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate. You have to be born in America to be president."
Hall takes this statement and uses it to expertly skewer Shelby:
There are only three explanations for Shelby's response: One, he doesn't understand the constitutional criteria required of citizens to serve as president. Two, he doesn't know Hawaii is in America. Or three, he is as ignorant and paranoid as the thousands of other conspiracy theorists who have made this same inane claim.
Maybe it's all three. After all, you do not "have to be born in America to be president."
Hall's last statement gets to the crux of the conspiracy theory that has become a plaything for conservative wingnuts. Alan Keyes has been among the leading whackjobs spouting off about this "requirement" that one must be born in America to be president:
Keyes clearly does not want the facts to get in the way of a good political rant. As Hall points out, Republican presidential candidate John McCain was born in Panama. But Keyes, Shelby, and their brethren aren't interested in that:
Pursuant to Article I, Section II of the Constitution, to be elected president, you have to be a "natural born citizen" of the U.S., which is not defined in the Constitution. Title 8 of the U.S. Code, Section 1401, does define "nationals and citizens of the United States at birth," and it includes people born outside the U.S. to parents with U.S. citizenship (i.e., people not "born in America," such as John McCain, who was born in Panama).
In addition, merely being "born in America" is not enough to be a "natural born citizen," because the newborns of foreign diplomats living in the U.S. are not considered "natural born citizens" as their parents are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the U.S.
It's one thing for Alan Keyes to make nutty public statements about Obama's citizenship. But you might think that a senior senator from Alabama would have some clue what the law actually says on this subject. And you certainly would think that Shelby is aware that Hawaii is in the United States. Given that, Hall can come to only one conclusion:
So, that leaves only one explanation: Shelby has bought in to the much-maligned theory that Obama really wasn't born in Hawaii, and that a group of powerful conspirators manufactured his U.S. citizenship so he could ascend to the presidency. Even if Shelby doesn't believe this hopeless hypothesis, he is still reinforcing his constituents' acceptance of it by publicly parroting it.
If Shelby has any defense for his clueless comment, it comes from Bob Burns, one of the people at the steakhouse for the event. "It sounded to me like (Shelby) really didn't want to go there."
But Shelby did go there. And in the process, Hall writes, he has made all Alabamians look like a punch of backwoods ding dongs:
We really didn't want Shelby to go there, either. He has once again made us the pitiful punchline of jokes around the nation--jokes about our supposed stupidity, our reportedly universal racist attitudes, and our widely envisioned environment of extreme, right-wing paranoia. Shelby's spokesman can spend weeks trying to retract his ridiculous anti-Obama rhetoric, but we will not forget.