Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Nailed It

I've always bristled at that authoritarian streak (mostly on the right) that likes to tell me the president is my "commander in chief." As a civilian, the president is not only not my commander, he is my elected official; if anything, I am atop his chain of command. If the president were commander in chief of all citizens, that would make him an awful lot like an emperor or a king, and I seem to recall that monarchy is a system of government rather frowned upon by the wise men who framed our constitution.

Gary Wills, professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University, takes this quasi-fascist fantasy back to constitution class, and scratches an itch I've had for quite a while:

The president is not the commander in chief of civilians. He is not even commander in chief of National Guard troops unless and until they are federalized. The Constitution is clear on this: “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.”

When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, “commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just “commander in chief,” or even “commander in chief of the United States.” This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics.