No, Bill Clinton Can't Become President of France

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 27 2012 9:26 AM

No, Bill Clinton Can't Become President of France

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Bill Clinton speaks during the session "Designing for Impact" at the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 23, 2012 in New York City

Photograph by Allison Joyce/Getty Images.

During an appearance on CNN earlier this week, Bill Clinton showed what appeared to be a remarkable—but not necessarily surprising—command of the topic: What Other Countries Could Bill Clinton Be President Of.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

"There are only two countries I'm eligible to run for the leadership position is if I move to Ireland and buy a house, I can—I can run for president of Ireland, because of my Irish heritage," the former U.S. president told Piers Morgan. "And because I was born in Arkansas, which is part of the Louisiana Purchase, any person anywhere in the world that was born in a place that ever was part of the French empire, if you move to—if you live in France for six months and speak French, you can run for president."

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Naturally, that got people talking, both here and abroad. In Ireland, for instance, a headline in today's Independent reads: "Next resident of the Aras? Bill Clinton reveals he could run for Irish Presidency."

The problem? Clinton's wrong on both counts, as Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating explained last night.*

In short: Irish law would require that at least one of Clinton's parents or grandparents was an Irish citizen at the time of his birth, something the former president can't claim. (Technically, the current government could offer Clinton a waiver because of his more general Irish ancestry, but that would appear to be a long shot, to say the least.)

And France? He apparently got that idea from an open letter a political scientist wrote to him in the New York Times back in 2001 suggesting the idea. The problem there, however, is that after that letter brought attention to the Louisiana Purchase loophole, the French parliament went on to abolish the provision in 2006. Keating has all the details here.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Joshua Keating's last name.