Wednesday, April 27, 2011

As Long As You're Editing...

Will Wilkinson does some Article II editing:
Here's how it ought to go:
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
I'm mostly indifferent to the "natural born Citizen" clause, but I am, as you know, by nature a logroller, so I'll support him if he'll support dropping the age requirement:

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
And, while we're at it, I'd drop the minimum age requirements for the House and the Senate, too. Frankly, I don't see the need for any requirement at all; there are plenty of places where I don't trust the common sense of the voters, but I'm not at all worried that they would elect my four year old nephew to the open Senate seat in Connecticut next year were it not for the Constitutional prohibition. There's really no reason for straight-out age prejudice in the Constitution. Nor does it make sense to tell  Matt Yglesias, Ross Douthat, Ezra Klein and Reihan Salam, or any of the other millions of 18-34 year olds that they aren't really full citizens yet.

Could we foolishly elect some unqualified 16 year old to the House under the right, freakish, conditions? Sure -- but it's not as if it'll be worse than this guy or this guy. Or, for that matter, the final terms of Robert Byrd or Strom Thurmond. The Republic won't fall.

7 comments:

  1. One reason why nobody talks about the age requirement for presidents is that there are few if any serious candidates whose age is anywhere near the minimum. The trajectory of most people's careers nowadays makes it unlikely that anyone younger than 40 will have accumulated enough experience to be considered a plausible contender.

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  2. The Republican won't fall.

    Freudian slip?

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  3. Andrew,

    Fixed, although it was definitely funnier the other way.

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  4. If we dropped both requirements, I think a foreign born President would be more likely than an under-35 President. Neither prohibition seriously offends me, although the former seems more problematic since it's a lifelong ban.

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  5. The thing that puts the age requirements in a weird context is that in the early 19th century (ie when the Founding Fathers were still very alive) a couple Senators actually were appointed a few years before they were thirty, including Henry Clay, and nobody really noticed. People just didn't pay that much attention to people's exact ages in those days, even though they had bothered to put those requirements in the Constitution. So the age requirements don't seem to be something that people really got all that worked up over even when they were first imposed.

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  6. UserGoogol, I noticed the same thing about Chester Arthur's birth- there was some question about whether he was born in America or Canada, but it doesn't look like this question amounted to anything other than a political attack- people really didn't get all that worked up about the details of the Constitution, because they weren't worshipping the letter of it, they were still following the spirit of it.

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  7. Any discussion of lowering or eliminating the age requirement for the presidency should acknowledge the 1968 cult-film classic Wild in the Streets. See the informative discussion starting at page 188 in this book:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=u6lxbxpbOE0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22presidents+we+imagine%22&hl=en&ei=ZOW5TayBHMPliAL95qga&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    The film is absurdist satire -- a teen idol gets elected president, after spiking the Capitol's water supply with LSD and getting the voting age lowered to 14 -- but if there's a serious point, it's that candidates' ages matter insofar as age cohorts become distinct political / pressure groups, as "youth" briefly did in the late '60s. The general concern to which the film (and other works of the time) speak is that if a president emerges from a previously marginalized "other" or outsider group -- whether defined by race, age, gender or whatever -- she/he/it might govern strictly in the interests of that group, in the process oppressing other groups. I suppose the Birthers and some others on the right feel that's exactly what's happened under Barack Obama.

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