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The U.S. President – A “Natural-Born” Citizen…

The three basic constitutional requirements to become President in the United States are well-known (Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution). Two of the three requirements, i.e. being at least 35 years old and having spent at least 14 years in the United States are clear, uncontestable, and only changeable through Constitutional amendment. The third, however, is causing a fair amount of confusion in our times. A president must be a natural-born citizen of the United States.

Natural-born_1st-US-CongressDiscussion and controversy around the definition of “natural-born citizen” is prevalent. In 2011, the Congressional Research Service tried clarifying what natural born really means by making distinctions about being a U.S. citizen “at birth” or “by birth” vs. being subsequently naturalized. In my opinion, this will heat up to a boil and require the nation’s attention next year, as candidates present themselves for consideration on the national scene. The U.S. Supreme Court has never directly confronted a sitting President about such qualifications but could very well get involved before the 2016 Presidential elections if there is a pressing need for a lasting determination on this point. There is no need to change the Constitution on this point but there appears to be a large need for clarity around the Constitutional term of “natural-born”.

An American can be a citizen “by birth”, “at birth”, or “naturalized”.

After several large waves of immigration in our country, some argue that we truly do need a clarification of the basic Constitutional requirements to lead this country as both Head of State and Head of Government. Stay tuned!


Presidential Crisis Leadership and the Weinberger Doctrine.

Presidential leadership in our times, especially in foreign affairs crises, requires a mastery of complexity. Complexity for our purposes can be loosely defined as a context in which some controllable and many uncontrollable factors need to be taken into account when leading up to a significant decision. United States Presidents must be skilled in how to lead in a “complexity leadership context”. After all, there are many players to contend with on the presidential leadership landscape: their administrations and departments, such as the Departments of Defense and State, the Congress, the Senate, the homeland security architecture including the FBI, CIA, and the NSC. Every President must also consider the effects that their decisions have on foreign policy and our alliances. Most of all, they must understand and clearly assess public opinion and the will of the people.

The Presidential crisis leadership process in many ways mimics a complex adaptive system. For example, it has the following:

  • Multiple independent agents (many random variables, some building on previous variables)
  • Non-linear (decision inputs come from all directions at various times)
  • Recurrency – recursive (sometimes you have to revisit a part of the process based on new non-anticipated input)
  • Consequence of competing factors (tug-of-war among many perspectives on the same problem)
  • Emergent structure from interrelated patterns of experience, social interaction, and cognitive mechanisms (constantly morphing “soft” structure)
  • Can’t be reversed (random, unforeseen events make it impossible to do reverse planning & analysis)
  • Needs constant energy flow (or the decision process disintegrates)

Deciding on an appropriate national response to the apparent atrocities carried out by Syrian leadership is a great example of the complexity of Presidential crisis leadership. You really can’t have a decision that will please everyone so at some point one has to come to a response that is largely based on analysis, but also reflects what the President believes in ethically right and congruent with the principles and values of the nation.

Analysis Example – The Weinberger Doctrine:

Cap WeinbergerWhen I served in the military, I had occasion to read and study a document which would later be called the “Weinberger Doctrine”. Casper (“Cap”) Weinberger was Secretary of Defense in the Reagan era (1981-89). He wrote a series of conditions which he felt needed to be met before the President and the Congress could commit troops to battle or peacekeeping arrangements.

Here are those Weinberger Doctrine conditions:

  1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
  2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.
  3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
  4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
  5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
  6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.

Principles and Values:

Making a decision that is the “right” decision always includes a fair amount of taking in a lot of input, looking at priorities and ethics, as well as considering the extended impact of the decision. A good leader skillfully blends all available input information with his/her own guiding set of principles and values. In the case of the President, he/she must take into account the country’s principles and values as well. If you try and please all the people all the time, you will wind up pleasing no one. You’ve got to act and stand by your decision in the face of what surely will be opposition.

Consider the contrasts between the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – two events that showed a maturation and learning behind the President’s decision-making apparatus.

Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba – 1961:

Bay of Pigs InvasionIn this event, Presidential advisors suffered from a great deal of “groupthink”, resulting in the ill-fated decision to launch a covert invasion of Cuba with the goal of overthrowing Fidel Castro.

Result: Castro found out about the “covert” invasion through press leaks. The ~1,400 invaders were vastly outnumbered and lacked air support and other basic items. Most surrendered and the rest died. “How could I have been so stupid?” President John F. Kennedy asked that after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He called it a “colossal mistake.” It left him feeling depressed, guilty, bitter, and in tears. One historian later called the Bay of Pigs, “one of those rare events in history — a perfect failure.” Our degraded leadership and credibility led Khrushchev to conclude that he could arm Cuba with long-range nuclear missiles that could threaten the United States.

Cuban Missile Crisis – 1962:

Cuban Missile CrisisThe same group of advisors that were so afraid of “rocking the boat” during the Bay of Pigs event proved to be successful in supporting an effective Presidential decision-making process with respect to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy was highly inclusive and expansive in soliciting advice and actively encouraged dissenting opinions. He used experts on Soviet culture and policy. He took a decision 13 days after the beginning of the crisis – resisting a surgical airstrike that could have significant collateral damage, loss of life, and subsequent retaliation.

Result: The President was able to craft a decision that ensured U.S. goals were achieved while not provoking any retaliation by Khrushchev. He decided on a limited quarantine – only for nuclear weapons. He and his brother RFK negotiated a deal that secretly removed our Jupiter missiles from Turkey and pledged that the U.S. would not invade Cuba. These actions eliminated the crisis and caused the Soviet Union to remove the missiles from Cuba.

We do not hope to recreate the same context in which the Cuban Missile Crisis was encountered and solved – that is impossible. We can, however, draw some interpretations from it to apply to our current crisis and standoff with Syria. One is that inclusion of all opinions and advice from a relatively wide swath of people and organizations, assuming it can be obtained in a timely way, can enable better Presidential decisions. A second observation is that it may serve us well to revisit the Weinberger Doctrine.  Finally, and this is applicable in most any historical context, Presidents need to be able to state, “I made this decision using the best information and input at the time, coupled with applying my principles and values and those of my fellow Americans – I stand by my decision.”

Leaders Never Attack People – Just Ideas…

Ronald ReaganIn 1964, then political aspirant and prior Democrat Ronald Reagan delivered his famous “A Time for Choosing” speech in which summarized what he believed to be the primary difference between the two political parties: big government vs. big opportunity. Fast-forward to 1984 – Ronald Reagan accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for a second term as President of the United States. His acceptance speech was brilliant – here’s a bit of it:

“The choices this year are not just between two different personalities, or between two political parties. They are between two different visions of the future. Two fundamentally different ways of governing – their government of pessimism, fear and limits… or ours of hope, confidence and growth.”

Certainly sounds like a positive and enduring vision – with the clarity that has the power to enlist people behind that vision. He continued, “Isn’t our choice really not one of left or right, but of up or down?

Please note that Reagan was extremely adept at phrasing language so that it did not vilify a person – instead, it was always “wrong ideas” that injured the nation and its people. He understood that if you verbally attack another person because you simply don’t believe the same things, you back that person into a corner. And you know what happens when you do that – the person feels the need to defend and “bark back”. That approach adds to the degree of polarization and alienation that we often see in today’s society.

Why not try, as Reagan did, to point out why you think that your ideas would be beneficial and talk about their effects? Use positive language, not negative. This approach, practiced by great leaders everywhere, has a unifying and inclusive effect. The goal is understanding rather than oppression – therein lies the beauty of this leadership technique.

The New Silent Majority – Not Good Leadership.

Raquel Welch Award-winning actress, author & fitness icon Raquel Welch says, “60% of Americans are Boomers, and yet they are all but invisible in the popular media and American culture. That has got to change.” I agree. Effective leaders must be vocal and demonstrative about their beliefs – it’s not enough to only “believe inside your head”. Good leaders show exactly how much they care through their actions within the social domain, politics, and other human interaction.

The term “silent majority” was popularized by President Richard Nixon in a 1969 political speech. Nixon was seeking the support of those who never raise their voices in dissent or for consent. The value of his terminology was that it brought to our American consciousness the realization that we have too many people who do absolutely nothing to try and govern their own lives and all of the societal factors that can affect them.

Many claim to be too busy or maybe even not well versed enough on the issues. John Ben Shepperd, former Attorney General of Texas in the 1950s and a great leader, used to speak about the typical expressions he would frequently hear from the Silent Majority of his time:

“You can’t do anything about it – forget it.”

“Politics is a corrupt business – it’s no life for a gentleman.”

“You can’t blame me for the mess this country is in – I ain’t voted in 25 years!”

On writing to a congressperson – “The letter would never get past his secretary. He wouldn’t pay any attention to a mere taxpayer anyway.”

“Not me – I don’t know anything about public affairs.”

General Shepperd also stated, “Our ailment is slumped-over citizenship, and the only cure for it is better citizen posture – a straightening of the spine.”

Therefore, I say to Raquel’s Boomers: what are you waiting for? Why would be content to be relegated a role as a member of the New Silent Majority? Can I give you a wake up call? I want you to get engaged and be visible about the things that you see and don’t agree with – or do agree with.

Network As a Boomer, you probably remember actor Peter Finch in the 1976 film Network. Finch’s character popularized the phrase, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore!” Well, I agree with actor Finch as well.  If you have the time to read and respond to this post, you certainly have the time to get involved. Get off the sidelines and act! I’m not only talking about voting – that’s something you must do as an American – if you don’t, you are sorely deficient in your responsibilities as a citizen.

I am talking about reading up on political and social issues. How about writing an email to your congressional representative? Circulate a petition, hold a rally about a cause, pass out flyers at a public place, write a blog, teach history to your kids – do something. Here’s a quick 10-question quiz to see if you are or are not a member of the New Silent Majority:

❶ True  □  or  False  □:   I know who my local, state and federal representatives are by name and political affiliation.

❷ True  □  or  False  □:   My elected officials are in my email contact folder so that I can quickly contact them.

❸ True  □  or  False  □:   I have been to a school board meeting in my area even if I don’t have kids in the school system

❹ True  □  or  False  □:   I belong to (or volunteer) at least one civic organization (Rotary, JA, business or non-profit organization)

❺ True  □  or  False  □:   I am involved in providing any type of service to my community (school, local government, church, etc.)

❻ True  □  or  False  □:   I read about political issues in a newspaper, magazine, or other printed or electronic matter (not TV).

❼ True  □  or  False  □:   I have strong feelings about the issues and frequently talk with others about my positions.

❽ True  □  or  False  □:   I teach my kids to engage civilly and how to debate an issue using logic and rationality – not mudslinging.

❾ True  □  or  False  □:   I have volunteered to help a political candidate get elected (phone banks, mailings, rallies, etc.)

❿ True  □  or  False  □:   Within the past month, I have contacted my congressperson about an issue of importance to me.


7 to 10 “True”: Congrats, you are in the game!

5 to 6 “True”: Careful, you’re becoming invisible!

0 to 4 “True”: I can’t see or hear you – no one else can either because you are in the New Silent Majority!

69th Anniversary of D-Day – Lessons in Leadership

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the World War II D-Day beachings at Normandy, France. Many leaders emerged that day while trying to overcome intense direct fire, suffering tremendous losses. You don’t need authority to lead – you just need to see what needs to be done and seize the moment. We salute the “greatest generation” of leaders that made liberty and freedom possible for us all.