Popp Culture

Birthers and birthday cakes: Celebrating becoming eligible to run for president

Birthers and birthday cakes: Celebrating becoming eligible to run for president

I recently became constitutionally eligible to run for the presidency of the United States of America.

My birth in New York City, coupled with my residence here in the United States for the past 14 years, placed me on the fast track to meeting the formal requirements for being president.

The age requirement, however, was the last part of the qualification trifecta I had yet to attain. As stipulated by Article II section 1 clause 5 of the Constitution, the only thing standing in my way to be eligible for the office of the president was that I had yet to turn 35.

So no sooner than the candles on my 35th birthday cake went out, I became technically eligible to run for president in 2012.

Not that I have the necessary ambition, purpose, or mettle to run for that office mind you. I enjoy following politics, but I have no stomach for it.

And after watching President Obama slog through another bruising week as chief executive, it still appears, with all due respect to Alaskan crab fishermen, that being President of the United States of America is one of the toughest jobs in the world.

Icing on the “Birther” Cake
For my 35th birthday, I got a Starbucks gift card. For President Obama’s 49th birthday, celebrated early this month, he received news that 27 percent of Americans believe he was either “definitely not born” or “probably not born” in the Hawaii on August 4, 1961.

This CNN poll illustrated that the absurd “birther” conspiracy still has legs, and as a consequence, perhaps one in five Americans might not believe Obama is constitutionally eligible to be President. Not only do a depressing number of people have doubts about Obama’s birthplace, a bewildering poll out last week by the Pew Research Center indicates that despite his proclaimed Christian faith, a whopping 18 percent of Americans erroneously believe that Obama is a Muslim.

Houston pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, one of Obama’s spiritual advisors, surmised in an interview with the New York Times that “never in the history of modern-day presidential politics has a president confessed his faith in the Lord, and folks basically call him a liar.”

The recent confusion over Obama’s faith might be somewhat unparalleled, yet the interest that Americans profess in the religious beliefs of their chief executive is not.

Houston, Is There a Problem?
The Framers of the Constitution set forth in Article VI that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Yet, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “nearly half the nation's presidents have been affiliated with the Episcopal or Presbyterian churches.” The other presidents largely affiliated with other Protestant sects.

Incidentally, for those of you enamored by presidential trivia, both Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon were Quakers. There have been, however, four exceptions. The Pew Forum documents that “only three U.S. presidents — Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson — have been unaffiliated with a specific religious tradition,” and only one president, John F. Kennedy, has been Catholic.

It was Kennedy’s Catholic faith that engendered considerable controversy in 1960 as well. During the campaign, questions circulated in many Protestant circles about Kennedy’s Catholic faith and the influence it would have on his decision making. On September 12, 1960, at the Rice Hotel in downtown Houston, Kennedy delivered a heralded speech on religion to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.

Kennedy used the speech to explain, “not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in."

JFK also asserted his belief “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” The speech underscored his belief that the President's “views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

Interestingly, Houston was also the site of the Democratic convention in 1928. That year, the Democrats nominated Al Smith at Sam Houston Hall (where the Hobby Center is currently located). Smith became the first Catholic nominee of a major party, yet lost the election to Herbert Hoover. During the general election, the Republican took Texas for the first time by capitalizing on fears about Smith’s faith and his anti-prohibition stances.

No Rest for the Weary
Kennedy began his 1960 speech in Houston emphasizing “from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues” than the “the so-called religious issue.”

While religion is still understandably an important part of our culture, I tend to agree with Kennedy.

The last combat troops left Iraq this month, yet there is still great uncertainty in both Iraq and in Afghanistan. Likewise, Obama’s advisor on nuclear issues stated this past week there is  “roughly a year dash time” before Iran could “convert nuclear material into a working weapon.” Here at home in Texas, unemployment continues to hover at 9.5 percent, and states are slashing budgets.

Oh, did I mention there is an education crisis and close to 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

All of these concerns inform President Obama’s “to do” list. Even when the Obama family went on “vacation” to Martha’s Vineyard this summer, I doubt there was much of a respite from the reality of being president.

No Cakewalk
So whether or not you believe Obama was born here, or in his professed statements of faith, or in his policy proposals to fix the country’s problems, I bet we can all agree that being president has unimaginable pressures.

The job of being President is so difficult, notes Dr. Michael Roizen of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, “a president typically ages two years for every one year in office.”

It is “a very high-stress job,” describes Roizen. Adding insult to injury, Presidents generally “lose their friends” as well. "Typically, when they come into office they have friends,” Roizen explains, “but by the time they leave, most of those friends apparently are asking for something. So they lose their confidants.”

This is why the presidency is described as “the loneliest job in the world.”

Obama apparently didn’t get any cake on his birthday earlier this month either. My belated birthday wish for Obama is that  he has some real cake and gets to eat it too.

Clearly, being president is no cakewalk.

It's not easy being president — even on your birthday. Especially if you're Barack Obama. He's given cupcakes to others in the past, but got no cake of his own on his birthday. The cake was a security concern.
This is what I got for my 35th birthday.
John F. Kennedy gave one of his most important speeches on religion in Houston.
The only thing harder than being president of the United States? Maybe, crab fishing in Alaska.