Commander in Chief of all the American people?
On Thursday, I noticed something on The Verdict that really bothered me. The next day, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo commented on the same general issue, though he did not mention the particular incident that had caught my eye.
On the Verdict, they were discussing Barack Obama's speech in Berlin, when Dan Abram's asked,
ABRAMS: So, what‘s the problem?
WATKINS: The problem is this—speeches like that are reserved for the commander-in-chief of the United States. The commander-in-chief speaks with the American people. Barack Obama is not just a citizen of the world or citizen of the United States, he is the presumptive Democratic nominee.
They know he‘s running for the presidency and what you do when you give a speech like that and you‘re not the commander-in-chief of all the American people, is that you undermine the institution of the president.
All together, Watkins used the title "Commander-in-Chief" six times, and the way he used it was also revealing, What he said was:
- commander-in-chief of the United States.
- commander-in-chief speaks with the American people.
- commander-in-chief of all the American people
- commander-in-chief of all the American people.
- commander-in-chief, president of all the people.
- commander-in-chief of the United States
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States
There is a not so subtle difference between the notion of "the Commander in Chief of the US military" and "the Commander in Chief of all the American people". As Josh Marshall points out in his article,
The point of the constitution's explicitly giving the president the title of commander-in-chief was not to make him into a quasi-military figure. It was precisely the opposite -- to create no doubt that the armed forces answered not to a chief of staff or senior general or even a Secretary of Defense (originally, Secretaries of War and Navy) but to a civilian elected officeholder who operates with the constrained and limited power of that world rather than the unbound authority of military command.
The civilian Commander in Chief of the armed forces is an elected representative of the people who commands and sets the strategy of the military, insuring that it serves the will of the people. The Commander in Chief of all the American people begins to sound a whole lot like the Roman Emperor, the "Imperator" or Commander who commands the people and the armed forces.
If you combine this image of the President as the Commander in Chief of the American people, with the image suggested by an audio clip that was aired on the Verdict a few days before, you get a really interesting picture. According LexisNexis, this is what the McCain Campaign said on Tuesday:
RANDY SCHEUNEMANN, MCCAIN ADVISER: This is really an amazing statement. He believes that deferring to commanders on the ground is not the job of commander-in-chief. He believes that deferring to the best military judgment of commanders is rubber stamping. He refuses to credit General Petraeus and General Odierno for their leadership. He disparages their strategic judgment and trumpets his own.
He finds it amazing that Obama "believes that deferring to commanders on the ground is not the job of commander-in-chief", which certainly suggests that Scheunemann believes that it is the Presidents job to so defer. That, my friends, is what happens when a country is ruled by a military junta. In America the civilian populace directs the military through their civilian representative, the President. Apparently in the McCain world the military directs, at the very least in military matters, the President.
There's a serious conflict in these two images of the Presidency, but both reveal a militarism that is very scary. As Josh Marshall points out these images, this language is becoming more and more pervasive and they dangerously distort the public view of the President, the military, the nation and civil liberties.
The time has come to speak out against this mindset. Be a free voice.