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Knock Off the "Commander-in-Chief" Crap - Not that Important

The on-going attention to and fascination by the role of the president as commander-in-chief of the military puts an unnecessary attention on the past and proposed bellicosity of this nation, when we should be focusing otherwise.

The president is not only the head of the executive branch, he IS the executive branch. As such, he is the diplomat-in-chief, treaty writer-in-chief, prosecutor-in-chief, policeman-in-chief, commerce regulator-in-chief, greeter-in-chief, appointer-in-chief, ranger-in-chief, landlord-in-chief, nominator-in-chief, spokesman-in-chief, and the head of state as well as of government. Yet, candidates, pundits, anchors, folk in general keep yakking about “commander-in-chief.” Why?

To the framers, the commander-in-chief was not an office nor position, but merely a description of one of the multiple roles of the chief executive, and the function was to be merely the head general and head admiral, only carrying out wars declared by the Congress. He was not to have the political power of deciding when and where to dispatch our troops, but only the power to command their dispatch and to conduct the ensuing and Congressionally decreed warfare. The role of commander-in-chief was not all that important to the framers, in the scheme of things, because they did not expect us to regularly be at war, and they did not expect the president to decide anything about the whethers or wheres anyway.

The reason commander-in-chief and not the other obvious executive duties is expressly mentioned in the Constitution is not because it was to be the primary power, but only because the Constitution was replacing the Articles of Confederation, under which a commander-in-chief of the military would be named by the Congress, case-by case, witness George Washington's role and source of power during the Revolution. After debates in the 1787 Convention, it was decided that a permanent commander-in-chief was needed, instead of being named by the Congress case-by-case, so it was laid out in the body of the Constitution. An additional concern was related to a complaint we had against the King in the Declaration – that he installed military power over civilian power.

So, the head of the military was forever to be understood to be the highest civilian power, the president.

But the commander-in-chief, again, is only the head general and head admiral – he has no legitimate power over the political question of committing our children to war. Nor does the commander-in-chief's role include building border walls! And it is not, accordingly, the most important function of the president. After all the Queen of England is the commander in chief of their military forces – see much debate or seminars or forums about “commander-in-chief” over there?

So, let's dispense with attention to the limited role of belligerence of the president and start focusing on the roles that can invite enlightenment, togetherness, understanding, civilization, and the proper functioning of the Republic. If we focus on belligerence, we'll die by belligerence.

Michael Kennedy

Admitted to Bar, State of California, 1981 Education: Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania (B.A., 1970) Southwestern University School of Law, Los Angeles, California (J.D., Scale, 1981) Harvard Law School, Program of Instruction for Lawyers, Cambridge, 1987


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