An Ominous Growth

In the post immediately below I referred to Obama’s audition for the role of ‘head of state/commander-in-chief’. And as a potential wartime president and in the rhetorical universe we’re now living in, this CINC test is inevitable and important for Obama to pass. But we should not forget how novel and in many ways pernicious the elevation of this term is.

At some points during the Republican primary campaign especially, CINC was being used almost as a synonym for president — much as we might substitute ‘chief executive’ for president. And the growing use of the term in this sense is an effective barometer of the progressive militarization of our concept of the presidency and our government itself.

We see it here in its semantic form but we can observe its concrete effect in the Bush administration’s claims of almost absolute presidential power well outside of war-fighting — almost as if the president is a kind of warlord simultaneously directing the military and the civilian governments with similar fiat powers.

We need to re-familiarize ourselves with the fact that 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.

We’ve gotten the relationship seriously out of whack.

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