Saturday, January 27, 2007

A very good point!

In At Ease, Mr. President New York Times 01/27/07, Garry Wills reminds us that the Constitution defines the American President's role as commander-in-chief as follows:

The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.
Our authoritarian Republicans like to refer to Our Dear Leader Bush generically as the "Commander-in-Chief". And it's been painfully clear that most of the Republican members of Congress actually see him that way.

But he's not officially anyone's "Commander-in-Chief" outside the active-duty armed forces. The fact that he's so commonly referred to that way is one more sad sign of the militarization of American politics and the political vocabulary. Wills expands on that point:

The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken "for the duration." But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and "the duration" has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.
The thing that bothers me most to this day about Dear Leader's May 2003 Mission Accomplished speech was that he appeared for a major speech in military garb. I don't know if George Washington wore a military uniform when he during his Presidency led the mobilized state militias to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. But, to put it mildly, it's very unusual for the President to appeal in military get-up in public. And unless he's in the field himself commanding an army the way Washington did on that occasion, in my mind it's inappropriate in the worst way.


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