Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obama the Hamiltonian

The birthers are raving lunatics and mostly driven by racist or xenophobic motives, but I will give them credit for one thing, and that is giving me a nod toward the identity of the best historical predecessor to Obama I've found yet. I'm speaking of Alexander Hamilton, known primarily as the first Secretary of the Treasury (and for being on the $10).*

Apart from the tenner, Hamilton is given short shrift in modern American history, because he was never President and because a duel with Aaron Burr cut short his life/career. However, he was a Founding Father of the first order, Washington's most trusted lieutenant (both in government and in the Continental Army), and a major participant in the Federalist Papers, which were the critical public (if anonymous) debate in the process of the passage of the Constitution by the states (note the need for such in the current health care debate).

Obama's approach is certainly Hamiltonian in his view of the Federal government as the public sponsor of the private banking system, of an active central government (as opposed to the states' rights view which predominated at the time, or to a pure libertarian/conservative view of the central government's role, today's chief opposing philosophy to the Obamaian). Further, Hamilton is considered the most poised, articulate, and clever speaker and writer of his age (which is saying something, with Jefferson in the picture), just as Obama may be today.

We don't know that much about a Hamiltonian mode of governing, though, because of the lack of any Hamilton Administration. It wasn't the duel, really, that kept Hamilton from the White House (particularly in 1796, when Washington exited); it was the Constitution. The sentence governing citizenship and eligibility for America's top office was specifically crafted to exclude Hamilton, who had many enemies.

Hamilton became an American citizen, and was as loyal as any other, but he wss born a British subject in the West Indies. And everyone knew it; that's why the Presidency is limited to natural-born citizens. That phrase, about which there is considerable confusion, means that the person must have been a citizen at birth, not becoming one by means of naturalization. That means Arnold Schwarzenegger is out, unless he can get a Constitutional amendment.

Obama, of course, was born in Hawaii, which had just become a state. (Even if Hawaii hadn't--become a state yet, that is--being born in a US Territory is good enough: as per the case of John McCain, no less).**

There isn't really any debate about Obama's being a natural-born citizen. It's just that the artificially-birthed controversy about it reminded me of the Hamilton Exclusion.

*Other American historical figures for whom one can make plausible arguments for similarities in key respects with Obama include Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, FDR, Andrew Jackson, and, of course, Lincoln.

** For the factoid that McCain was born in the Canal Zone--US territory at the time, though no more, I must thank my friend Muhammad Cohen (and see his blog, and novel, Hong Kong on Air, hopefully coming soon to a theater near you).

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