Sunday, January 18, 2009

Protect and Defend

On Tuesday next, Barack Obama will place one hand on the Bible Abraham Lincoln used in 1861 and raise the other as he becomes the 43rd person (44th President -- Cleveland counts twice) to officially recite the following oath, in accordance with Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
I have been disturbed to hear the current occupant of the White House repeatedly misstate the President's first duty. And I have heard others accept that misstatement. I have even heard Barack Obama dangerously simplify the President's duty to "protect and defend".

I certainly want the President of the United States to do all that is ethically and morally in his power to protect and defend the lives of me and those I love and all Americans. But that is NOT his first duty. His first duty is to the Constitution of the United States. I hope that if it ever came to such a choice that I would give up my life for the Constitution. Despite the horrors of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the burning of Washington, DC in 1814, or the evil murders and destruction in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York in 2001, those events did not damage the Constitution of the United States.

Others can belittle us. Others can mock our traditions. Others can terrorize us. Others can kill us.

But only Americans can destroy our freedoms.

Very few established institutions, governments and constitutions ... are ever destroyed by their enemies until they have been corrupted and weakened by their friends.
-Walter Lippman, journalist (1889-1974)

I have no great need to rub George Bush's nose in his failures at this point. He is headed day after tomorrow for Crawford, Texas and political oblivion. Barack Obama has made it plain that he wants to heal the nation's wounds by looking forward, not back. I support him in that.

But it is also of the utmost importance that he take that oath seriously. One of the most pressing duties before him is to make clear that even the President must respect the the law. That Americans do not torture. That the last administration was in error when it put protecting against terror above protecting the Constitution.

I trust Obama to use his power in legitimate ways. But some day there will be another President. What precedent will that future President follow when our people are again victimized, as we eventually will be, by foreign evil? Will he or she be tempted to sacrifice our freedoms for physical security?

Protect and defend? Yes! By all legitimate means. But protect and defend the Constitution first.

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