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Washington Emolument

As the President presses his tux and his luck to pick up the Nobel on Thursday, I am reminded of one of my late grandfather’s favorite jokes. Although he died when I was eleven, he managed to tell it to me three or four times.

A fellow drove across the border from San Diego into Tijuana in a big yellow Cadillac every Saturday. Customs officials were convinced he was a smuggler. He and his car were searched repeatedly to no result. Week in, week out, he made his journey to the chagrin of the inspectors. After one of the Customs men retired and asked the man off the record to satisfy his curiosity: “What contraband have you been transporting all this time?”

“Simple. I was exporting yellow Cadillacs to Mexico tax-free. They are huge favorites over there. Every Sunday I crossed back on foot and nobody noticed.”

Similarly, while the punditocracy and the commentariat, the intelligentsia and the cognoscenti all searched for accomplishments to justify the award, only one kept her eye on the prize itself. That would be Claudia Monteverdi of Argentina, granddaughter of retired Senator Grigorio Monteverdi and herself a Congressional candidate. This former Miss Latin America is a long-time friend of this column and its de facto South American correspondent. Among other achievements, she has a thoroughgoing command of the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

Immediately following the announcement, Claudia began to make the case that it was unconstitutional for Obama to accept the prize. Article I of the Constitution provides that “No person holding any office of Profit or Trust… shall, without the consent of Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or Foreign State.” The Nobel is a private fund, but the awardees are determined by members of the Norwegian Parliament.

In short, Claudia maintained, the government of Norway is slipping a big check to the President of the United States. Her case is bolstered, I might add, by the clear agenda the bribe is intended to encourage, i.e. the choosing in all instances of policies deemed peaceful, peaceable, peace-oriented and/or peace-inducing by the pacifist international left. Once again, those who admire this country from foreign shores have a truer sense of its founding vision than many of its own meandering children.

NOW HER CALL has found an echo in the person of Tad Armstrong of Edwardsville, Missouri. Mr. Armstrong is an attorney who founded the ELL (Earn it, Learn it, or Lose it) Constitution Clubs. In an op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this weekend he confirmed the view that Nobel’s dynamite is blowing up the Constitution.

He adds a new wrinkle for folks who regard appeals to the Constitution as quaint and anachronistic. He cites a law passed by Congress in 1966, now numbered as Section 7342 of the U.S. Code, which declares that absent specific consent of Congress any gift or decoration received by a sitting President must be accepted on behalf of the United States and turned over to the Treasury.

Yes, indeed, the disposition of the prize money is not in the hands of President Obama, despite his magnanimous but vague assertion it will be forwarded to charitable causes. Our founders were concerned such gifts might serve as a means of influencing our leaders to make choices in the interest of other sovereigns.

Then again, perhaps all this is absurd. Who would be so overwrought as to suspect a President might be moved to accept European attitudes at the expense of American ones? That he might give more credence to conventional wisdom than to common sense? That he could be swayed by leftist banalities into abandoning an appreciation of American exceptionalism? That he could be moved to regurgitate the pap of Marxist professors in major addresses?

Who would be mean-spirited enough to imagine a President might be seduced into believing America guilty of torture? Of arrogance? Of overusing the resources of the world? Of damaging the physical planet by its consumption and industry? Of interfering into local affairs in South America and the Middle East? Of causing Iranian unrest by something the CIA did in the 1950s? Of causing Palestinians to bridle by favoring Israel overmuch?

The idea that giving an American President a few bucks could make him do and say such things is offensive. In point of actual fact, this goof was saying all those things without demanding anything more in return than flattery. So the Nobel is not a cause, but we are still in plenty of trouble. Please cry for me, Argentina.

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