Defining What the United States Means

In the middle of my debate with "DJ" over what it means to be patriotic, another debate has surfaced: is John McCain, who was born in the Canal Zone, eligible to be President since he was born in the Panama Canal Zone, which is outside the continental United States?

Let’s take this issue apart on a number of levels.

The first thing we need to do is to dispense with the criterion of "inside the continental United states."  Next year Alaska and Hawaii will celebrate fifty years of statehood, and both of these states are outside the continental United States.  After all this time, the hour has come to stop thinking of this country ending at Port Angeles or Key West (actually, some of us who were raised in South Florida think that it ends at Stuart, but I digress…)

And that leads to the central point: there are many places in the world which are certainly United States territory which are neither in the continental U.S. nor admitted states.  Such places include Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and others.  Most of these were annexed without the consent of their own people; this has been especially contentious in Puerto Rico.  They are obviously United States territory and, especially with the Fourteenth Amendment (which the right is silly to try to contravene with legislation,) their inhabitants, for better or worse, are Americans.

When John McCain was born, the Panama Canal Zone was part of this country.  The U.S. actually separated Panama from Colombia, then secured the Canal Zone in order to control the strategic Panama Canal, which the U.S. built.  The Canal Zone was part of the U.S.  This stuck in the craw of the Panamanians, who eventually persuaded Jimmy Carter to return the Zone to Panama.  And the backwash of that decision was one reason why Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan.

If the status of the Canal Zone as American territory was important enough to help get a president out of office, being born there should not be a bar to getting into the White House.

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