Anderson Cooper and the ‘Big Bad Birthers’

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CNN’s Anderson Cooper may actually think he is a fair-minded journalist. But probably someone in a mental institution somewhere thinks he is Anderson Cooper. Which just goes to prove that thinking something, doesn’t make it so.

The problem, however, isn’t what Anderson Cooper thinks about himself, but that other people actually take him seriously as a journalist and opinion maker, too.

I know, it’s hard to believe. After all, Cooper is the guy who popularized calling Tea Party protesters “Teabaggers” even though he knew it was a derogatory term that referred to a sex act popular among homosexuals. He had to apologize for that, sort of, but what would be more appropriate would be an apology for pretending to be a fair journalist when he actually is a shill for left-wing causes.

But I should explain that the people who idolize Cooper — and hold him up as a serious journalist — are none other than the left-wing extremists who share his views.

Thus, after Cooper did an interview on Feb. 15 with Montana Rep. Bob Wagner, R-Harrison, the so-called journalist was being hailed as a hero on the left-wing blogosphere. Headlines appeared on the Internet such as this:

“Anderson Cooper OWNS Montana ‘Birther’ Bob Wagner,” “Montana Tea Party lawmaker schooled by Anderson Cooper” and “Montana Birther Nut Lawmaker Becomes National Joke on CNN.”

And if you got all your news from what someone else tells you, maybe that would be the end of the story. But I beg you to watch the video for yourself, or better yet, read the transcript. Bob Wagner was dignified, reasonable and polite — all the while he was being ambushed by an agenda-driven Anderson Cooper. 

So let’s do to CNN and Cooper what Cooper claimed to be doing in his interview with Wagner on Feb. 15 — “Keep them honest.”

First of all, let’s provide something you didn’t get in Anderson Cooper’s lengthy report — the facts about House Bill 205, which would require candidates for president and Congress to provide Montana with proof that they meet the U.S. Constitution’s requirements for eligibility to hold those offices.

If the office sought is Congress, then the candidate would have to provide proof of age since members of the House of Representatives have to be 25 years old and senators have to be 30 years old to hold those offices.

If the office sought is president, then the candidate would have to provide proof of age as well as proof that the candidate was born “within a state or territory of the United States,” since the president must be 35 years old and a “natural born citizen” of the United States.

Again, these requirements for federal office are established in the U.S. Constitution. In addition to the age requirements for serving in Congress, it should be noted that members of the House must have been citizens for seven years prior to taking office, and members of the Senate must have been citizens for at least nine years.

This is all quite plainly laid out as the law of the land. It is hoped that Congress demands proof of eligibility of its members before they are sworn in, but I have no reason to believe they do.

More to the point, however, we have all learned in the past two years that there is no procedure in place to establish the eligibility of a candidate to serve as president of the United States. Though the Constitution sets the rules; it provides no procedure through which the rules are to be applied.

The reason why this is currently relevant, of course, is because various U.S. citizens have questioned the eligibility, on various grounds, of President Barack Obama to hold the office in which he serves.

The matter of how that particular issue would be decided is irrelevant to a constitutionalist, however. What matters is that because the questions were raised, we have learned that there is no process, no procedure, no proof required to establish constitutional eligibility for a presidential candidate. Congress has refused to address the issue. Courts have avoided the issue. Citizens have been told they have no “standing” to raise the issue.

And so, it has become apparent that some kind of guideline needs to be established for enforcement of the constitutional provision on presidential eligibility. The only people who don’t think so are people who think it is more important to protect Barack Obama than to protect the Constitution.

And into that category we can now safely assign Anderson Cooper. In his interview with Rep. Wagner, Cooper turned the proposed law into a vendetta against President Obama — when in fact the law would be applied equally to all candidates, and would neither target nor favor Obama.

Cooper, however, preceded the interview with Rep. Wagner by lumping him in with the so-called “birther movement,” people who question the eligibility of President Obama to be president of the United States based on his birth status. Cooper then said it was pretty obvious that the “birthers” were wrong and, as I noted above, told us he was “keeping them honest.”

The only problem is that Cooper wasn’t providing useful background information for his interview with Rep. Wagner; he was “setting the stage” for an ambush.

Remember, Wagner’s bill makes no reference to President Obama whatsoever. It is about a procedural matter for what you need to do to get on the ballot in Montana to run for federal office — namely that you have to establish your qualifications for the office.

But Anderson Cooper plainly wasn’t interested in what was in the bill — he was interested in trying to paint Bob Wagner of Harrison, Montana, as one of those loco country folk who are not only racists and hate-mongers but also stupid.

Thus, after spending several minutes outlining why “birthers” are boobs, Cooper began his interview by asking Wagner  whether he believed that Barack Obama is, in fact, a citizen of the United States.

Of course, Wagner is no expert on the president’s citizenship status; nor is Cooper. The interview was supposed to be about HB 205, which makes no mention of President Obama. If Cooper were indeed a fair-minded journalist, he would have begun the interview by asking Wagner to explain the purpose of HB 205 and why he considers it an important change in Montana state law.

Wagner, needless to say, did not take the bait. He patiently explained to his interlocutor that he was “not really qualified” to pass judgment on President Obama’s citizenship status. Moreover, he explained up front that “it’s irrelevant.”

Cooper pounced on Wagner, asking him, “What do you mean you’re not qualified?”

Wagner, thinking perhaps that he really was dealing with a fair-minded journalist, tried to answer the question. He explained that he was not qualified because no one had offered him any proof on the matter, and thus he had no information to judge the matter, then went back to Cooper’s original question and again said that his personal beliefs have no relevance to the law he had proposed.

Cooper no doubt felt like he had the poor, ill-prepared bumpkin legislator from Montana just where he wanted him. “How can you say there is no proof offered?” he taunted. “There’s a certificate of live birth which was shown by his campaign in 2008 which has the seal of the — the raised seal of the state [of Hawaii], is signed off on.”

Wagner tried to explain the difference between the “certificate of live birth” and a long-form birth certificate, but Cooper didn’t seem interested. For the record, the certificate produced by President Obama’s 2008 campaign is merely an acknowledgment that Barack Obama’s birth was recorded by the state of Hawaii, but it provides no details as to where that birth took place. If you want to take the time to research this, you will see that there is considerable reason to believe that in 1961 it would have been possible to register the birth of a baby even if he was not born in Hawaii.

But, again, who cares? That is an issue specific to Hawaii, and not to the Constitution of the United States, and certainly not to the ongoing process to holding elections in the state of Montana. It would only be relevant if Rep. Wagner had said he was trying to prove that Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen, but he never said that.

Nonetheless, Cooper drilled ahead with his attempt to make Wagner look stupid, and instead only made himself look uninformed.

Cooper thus pointed out to Rep. Wagner that “a certificate of live birth is good enough for the U.S. Passport Office to get a passport.” Perhaps if Montana had been trying to tell the U.S. Passport Office how to do its job, that would have had some relevance, but it certainly had nothing to do with the question of a presidential candidate’s ability to establish that he or she is a “natural-born citizen” and thus eligible to be president.

At this point, Cooper was throwing out various questions that were meant not to inform people about the bill, but to try to steer viewers into thinking Wagner was unreasonable. At one point Cooper even confused the issue of presidential eligibility with the 14th Amendment, which has absolutely no bearing on the citizenship qualifications of a president.

Moreover, he misstated the purpose of the 14th Amendment when he said, “Under U.S. law, anyone born in the United States, regardless of what their parents are, is considered a natural-born citizen.”

But Wagner was having none of it.

“I don’t believe that to be so,” he correctly responded.

At one point, Cooper asked why the issue of presidential eligibility had never come up before in Montana — again trying to make it look like this proposal was all about Barack Obama. Cooper sneered at Wagner, “I mean, where was George Bush born?” as if the birthplace of George Bush was itself irrelevant.

But it is not.

If you are going to serve as president you should have to prove you are qualified to serve. Period. So instead of dismissing the mystery of where George Bush was born, Rep. Wagner rightly seized on it —

“That’s exactly the problem,” he told Cooper.

He then explained that up until 2008, people had assumed that there was a process for determining presidential eligibility, but that since then — because of the various court cases involving President Obama — it had been established that the only point where eligibility can be challenged is by the 50 states when they agree to place someone on the ballot.

“I guess it’s back in our court, and we will take care of it,” Wagner concluded.

I’m not sure whether or not Wagner is right about “taking care of it.” Chances are that even if Montana’s Legislature passes the bill, our Democratic governor will veto it.

But that’s not the end of the story.

One thing Cooper did get right is that there are at least 10 other states also weighing bills that “in some form or other require presidential candidates to present proof of citizenship in a state to get on a ballot in that state.”

Clearly, this is not just a crackpot idea that should be dismissed without serious examination. And if any one of those bills passes, then the public will be assured of more transparency in the process of electing presidents — something which all of us should support.

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