The conflict surrounding President Barack Obama's birth certificate has been an absurd circus. But for local writer Don Rosebrock, it was also the germ of an idea. What would happen if a president legitimately didn't have a birth certificate? That question formed the spine of his debut book, A Natural Born Citizen.
Elena de Leon was a fast-rising star of the Democratic Party. Her hard-nosed work in the Texas legislature and inspiring personal story helped propel her to the vice presidency.
But when the president suffers a fatal heart attack two years into his term, she is sworn in as Commander-in-Chief. Within days, the speaker of the House launches a strategic political assault to install himself as president. The cornerstone of his strategy is an affidavit from de Leon's ex-husband that says she was born on the Mexican side of the border town she grew up in, not the Texas side. And as de Leon was born in a rural church, she has no official birth certificate to prove otherwise. And if that wasn't enough, de Leon's daughter is kidnapped by white supremacists who want to force her out of office.
The book plays out the subsequent legal, political and tactical maneuvers of the two weeks after the president's death.
A Natural Born Citizen is not going to be a best seller. The exposition at the book's front end is not fast-paced enough, nor are the characters finely developed enough. But once the groundwork is laid, A Natural Born Citizen hits its stride as a plot-based thriller for policy wonks.
Rosebrock expertly lays out courtroom processes, political strategies and media figures, all with the practiced cynicism of a career reporter. Both the moves and justifications made by federal judges and the internal monologue of the White House press secretary as he leads the press around by the nose are refreshingly cynical toward the political process. Even the president, a grab bag of leftie causes on the surface, is something of a foul-mouthed a-hole whenever the cameras are off.
In the end, A Natural Born Citizen reads all too real, even if the exposition makes that reading a bit clunky.