Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Have an Idea

Digby, over at Hullabaloo, has posted a meditation on the authoritarian, "Unitary Executive" theories of Presidential power, in the course of which she talks about the famous quote from Richard Nixon that "when the president does it that means that it is not illegal."

I won't attempt to compete with Digby (one hell of a writer, BTW) on discussing the ramifications of unlimited executive power in a stated (if undeclared) time of war. But part of the post attempted to put the infamous Nixon quote in context, and something Tricky Dick said jumped out at me. It was in a famous series of interviews with David Frost, and this was the exchange:

FROST: ... Is the president in that sense—is there anything in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that suggests the president is that far of a sovereign, that far above the law?

NIXON: No, there isn't. There's nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven't read every word, every jot and every tittle, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we're all talking about.

Now, that bit about President Nixon not "having read every word" of the Constitution really struck me, especially since Nixon was supposedly a graduate of Duke Law School. (This UNC law grad will refrain from making the obvious dig here.)

As I've pointed out before, the President of the United States does not take an oath to protect the country. The Presidential oath requires the POTUS to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution of the United States. It would seem to me that having actually read the thing, every jot and every tittle, ought to bloody well be a prerequisite for the job of defending it.

So here's what I suggest: part of the swearing in ceremony should require the President to stand on the Capitol Steps after taking the oath, hold a copy of the United States Constitution in his or her hand, and actually read it. Out loud. Beginning to end. Every jot, every tittle, every article, sub-article and amendment. Every damn comma and semicolon.

Maybe it would be boring to watch. Maybe it would be lousy TV. But maybe, just maybe, it will impress upon the next holder of the office that the Constitution is by-God important, and he or she needs to pay attention to it for a change.


Kent said...

Now that right there is a great idea.

As you said, it might be boring to watch, but it could also be interesting to note facial expressions and body language as the new Chief reads it.

And, just maybe, something in the reading would indeed take hold and we would end up with a better President.

Cameron Hughes said...

It would be an interesting (and potentially scary) poll to see how many people genuinely think if the President does it, its not illegal

nathan singer said...

Hell, I think the President should be required to recite it in its entirety FROM MEMORY. The recitation can be part of the ceremony, like a bar mitzvah. It should take place before the swearing-in, and if he or she can't do it, then he or she cannot be president.

If itinerant griots can memorize and recite that much language (which they have for centuries) then I don't think it's too much to ask of the most powerful person on the planet.

(As a bonus it'd spare us from any more Bushes holding the office).

David Terrenoire said...

This idea works only if the person who wins the election can actually, you know, read.

I used to think that was a given. Now I'm not so sure.