Commander-in-Chief Redux

February 24, 2008

Several days ago this very blog posted about Karl Rove’s use of “commander-in-chief.” The phrase will surely come up time and again across the year, as it did in the most recent Democratic debates in Texas.

IntLawGirls covered the incident very well. The post is well-researched, well-expressed, and worth the read. Candidates of all political stripes seem to have a variety of subjective and inconsistent understandings of this role, which, as I attempted to express earlier, is clear in writing and vague in practice. The terminology, in my mind, is most useful in establishing a legal line of authority and accountability. Its use in political debate is misguided.

When Senator Clinton was asked about Senator Obama’s qualifications as “commander-in-chief” she failed in several ways. First, she did not answer in a manner consistent with her vague criticim of his military acumen; second, she expressed a flawed understanding of the position; third, she did not take the opportunity to demonstrate any national defense expertise (which, relatively speaking, she probably possesses). Riding the “change” train and playing nice seem to be more important than the question at hand.

Nevertheless, emphasis on the executive’s military role is bad practice during a campaign: for the media, for politicians, for pundits. When necessary so as to discharge the duties of the office, it’s nothing short of constitutional (and only tangentially political).