As Tennesseans who have followed our state lawmakers know by now, the shenanigans of our legislators occasionally make them appear either excessively partisan or flatly ignorant- if not maliciously deceitful - regarding the issues they pretend to address. State Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Rick Womick, both Murfreesboro Republicans, have just demonstrated that anew by filing a bill that would draw the Legislature into the fantasy land of the so-called "birthers" - the group of conspiracy theorists who are again raising the notion that President Obama is not an American citizen qualified to hold the presidency.
Their bill, similar to one introduced in the Arizona Legislature by Republican state Rep. Judy Burges in early February, would require U.S. presidential candidates to prove they were born in the United States to qualify for the presidential ballot in Tennessee. It is aimed directly at Obama's re-election plans despite the fact that under the United States Constitution, he is a natural-born American citizen by virtue of his birth to an American mother in Hawaii two years after it became the 50th state of the union.
Regardless, Ketron, apparently infused with the birthers' anti-Obama conspiracy fantasy, told the Associated Press that he thinks Obama is hiding the so-called fact that he was born in another country.
Republican leaders have generally coddled this group on the grounds that any foe of Obama is a potential voter and friend of theirs. Most national Republican leaders, including Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, have refused to refute the birthers' claim when they have been asked about it. Instead, they coyly say that, well, Americans have the right to make up their own mind about Obama's citizenship and that they're not going to tell these people what to believe - at least not on that issue.
Never mind that Hawaii's Health Department confirmed early in 2008 that Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961, in a Honolulu hospital; or that the Obama team scanned and made available a copy of his birth certificate. The conspiracy theorists continue to ignore the proof. They just claim the facsimile of the certificate is a fake and keep up their anti-Obama chant. For many, it fits with their broader conspiracy theory that Obama's not a Christian either, as he proclaims, but is secretly a Muslim who is engaged in a bigger conspiracy to undermine America and impose Sharia law. Their tripe is as endless as it is unfounded.
The "birthers," to be sure, were far less concerned about Sen. John McCain when he was running for the presidency in 2008. He really was born in another country - Panama, where his father, a Navy officer, was stationed at the time. Nor was the question of birth raised with regard to another GOP presidential contender in 2008, Mitt Romney, who was born in Mexico.
Apparently the fact that the parents of McCain and Romney were Americans - as was Obama's mother - satisfied the birthers that the Republican candidates' status as "natural-born citizens" was assured, at least for candidates who shared their partisan views. That probably explains why birther types would have approved Barry Goldwater's presidential bid had he been elected, though when he was born in 1909 the Arizona territory had not yet become a state.
Constitutional scholars have long discounted the notion that the Constitution's presidential criteria for "a natural born citizen" means that a citizen actually must be born in America. U.S. statutes guarantee inherent natural-born citizenship to children of Americans under a number of conditions, including those born outside the United States.
Obama's birth to an American mother in the state of Hawaii more than qualifies him as a natural born American citizen. Tennessee's Legislature shouldn't demean our state by kowtowing to nutty partisan fantasies and wing-nut groups that seek only to impugn an honorable and freely elected American president. Our lawmakers should be above such partisan slime.