Derangement of Duty:
George W. Bush, the Constitution, and the Fetish of Security
While listening to George W. Bush give his 2004 State of the Union address, one line he spoke really stuck in my craw:
"Our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people."
Since this was an address to a joint meeting of the House and Senate, I assume Mr. Bush was referring to his duty as President, the duties of Senators and the duties of Representatives. Members of the Supreme Court were there, too: to be fair, let's include them as well.
Let's actually look at the job descriptions of the President, Senators, Representatives and Members of the Supreme Court as described in two places: the U.S. Constitution and the oaths of office taken by each of these officeholders.
In the U.S. Constitution (read it yourself), the Preamble tells us what the government should be for:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Look in there: "provide for the common defense" is just one of six priorities, and it's stuck in the middle there, like the middling actor in a movie who gets neither the top billing nor the coveted final "and featuring..." spot. Surely (surely!) George W. Bush has read the Constitution. Why, then, does he neglect Union, Justice, Tranquility, Welfare and Liberty?
Moving on through the Constitution to Article I, Section 8 enumerates the responsibilities of the House and Senate in a set of 18 clauses. By my reading, these include
In Article V, amending the Constitution is also mentioned as a legislative responsibility. Here too, the whole "defense of the American people" thingy is only one of many duties of the Congress. Is Bush ignorant of these, or does he actively choose to ignore them?
- imposing taxes
- paying debts
- securing common defense
- promoting general welfare
- borrowing money
- regulating foreign and domestic commerce
- regulating citizenship
- coining money
- governing the post office
- building roads
- promoting scientific and artistic progress
- instituting intellectual property
- maintaining a court system
- supporting international law
- declaring war
- maintaining an Army
- maintaining a Navy
- instituting domestic law enforcement
- governing the District of Columbia
- writing laws to accomplish all of the above.
In Article II, Sections 2-3 of the Constitution, the responsibilities of the President are enumerated:
Yet again, multiple responsibilities are named, most of which are not directly related to military engagement.
- serving as commander in chief of the armed forces
- administrating of the departments of the executive branch
- granting reprieves and pardons
- making treaties
- appointing ambassadors, administrators and judges
- filling vacancies when Congress is not in session
In Article III of the Constitution, the responsibilities of the Judiciary are enumerated, and all of them are related to upholding a system of laws. No responsibilities related to military engagement are named.
Finally, Article VI of the Constitution states that "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." (That whole "no religious Test" thing is another story). The oaths of office for all three branches of the U.S. Government are not to engage in "the active defense of the American people," but rather to uphold the Constitution.
The Oath of Office for the President is specifically laid out in Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The oath of the Constitution makes it perfectly clear what the primary responsibility of the President is. It is not to defend economic security. It is not to defend the people. It is to defend the Constitution of the United States.
The Constitution that the President of the United States is sworn to preserve, protect and defend contains a Bill of Rights (read it yourself). These include:
- the prevention of the establishment of religion (which Bush proposed doing by providing material governmental support to certain religious groups)
- freedom of speech (which Bush's spokesman undermined by admonishing Americans to "watch what they say, watch what they do")
- freedom of the press (which Bush does not bother to read)
- freedom of peacable assembly for purposes of protest (which Bush undermines in his appearances by keeping opponents out of his line of sight and in distant "free speech zones," outside of which words of protest are forbidden)
- a right to bear arms (which Bush is OK with)
- a right to refuse search and seizure without probable cause (undermined by involuntary data mining operations, unregulated surveillance of law-abiding citizens without notification, and random roadside searches)
- a right to a trial (taken away for those Bush designates as "enemy combatants")
The Bill of Rights does not include a right to national security, or to personal safety. It prescribes liberty and admonishes government leaders including the President to protect that liberty. It requires the President to swear to uphold those liberties by protecting, upholding and defending not the American People, but the American Constitution.
Is Mr. Bush ignorant of his Constitutional duties? Has he forgotten his oath of office? Or is he acting in knowledgeable disregard of them?
None of these possibilities is reassuring. Fortunately, in cases of presidential ignorance and/or active contravention of duty, the Constitution reserves to the people the right to remove a sitting (and this one definitely is sitting) President from office.
Dereliction of Constitutional duty: another reason to boot Bush in 2004.
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