Monday, December 22, 2008

In response to a non-question question from Chris Wallace on the 12/21 edition of Fox News Sunday, Vice-President Dick Cheney argued:

Well, I just fundamentally disagree with him. He also said that the -- all the powers and responsibilities of the executive branch are laid out in Article 1 of the Constitution. Well, they’re not. Article 1 of the Constitution is the one on the legislative branch.

Joe’s been chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, for 36 years, teaches constitutional law back in Delaware, and can’t keep straight which article of the Constitution provides for the legislature and which provides for the executive.

So I think -- I write that off as campaign rhetoric. I don’t take it seriously. And if he wants to diminish the office of vice president, that’s obviously his call.

I think that President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president. And apparently, from the way they’re talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I’ve had during my time.

Cheney is right- Joe Biden does not expect to have "as consequential a role as" Cheney has had in advancing the policies and programs of arguably the worst President ever, and inarguably the worst President in recent times. But he's wrong when he says that Biden "wants to diminish the office of vice president."

It is virtually impossible to diminish the office of the vice president. It's highly unlikely that the former Delaware senator will be reluctant to "be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided;" Biden will be only too happy to cast the deciding vote in a 50-50 split. And simple common sense (unsurprisingly lacking in a guy who would shoot his hunting companion) would suggest that no vice president would shrink from assuming responsibility when "in Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President..."

There you have it, Mr. Cheney: The two constitutional duties of the vice-president and to suggest that Mr. Biden would diminish the office is to argue that he would refuse either of those roles. Not likely.

Still, it's not surprising. Asked about "the powers of the president relative to Congress and the courts during the war," Cheney claimed "but we have exercised, I think, the legitimate authority of the president under Article 2 of the Constitution as commander in chief in order to put in place policies and programs that have successfully defended the nation."

But Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution does not authorize the President to be "commander in chief." It makes the President "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States...." And it doesn't stop there. It specifies (after the ....) "when called into the actual Service of the United States." So no one, constitutionally, is commander in chief- and the President is commander in chief of the armed forces only when "called into the actual Service of the United States."

Author/historian Garry Wills points out "We used to take pride in civilian leadership of the military under the Constitution, a principle that George Washington embraced when he avoided military symbols at Mount Vernon." Now, however, aided by the promiscuous use of the term "commander in chief" or "commander in chief of the United States, "the glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements."

This is a bipartisan error. Campaigning in Ohio on Halloween, Joe Biden declared " after next Tuesday, the very critics he has now and the rest of America will be calling him something else - they will be calling him the 44th president of the United States of America, our commander in chief Barack Obama!"

That may simply have been Biden being Biden. Growth of the "commander in chief" rhetoric during the last eight years, however, has better enabled the Bush Administration to cook the intelligence about a misguided war, spy on American citizens, and implement a torture regime. Instead, as Salon's Glenn Greenwald has noted, "with regard to Americans generally, the president is not our 'commander' but instead our elected public servant, subject to the mandates of the law like every other citizen and subordinate to the will of the people."

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