Saturday, January 27, 2007

The President is a public servant

Garry Wills in an op-ed at the NYT explores how our President has erroneously come to be referred to as Commander-in-Chief. In fact, he is not our Commander-in-Chief. He has no command over the civilian population. He is only CiC of the military. Otherwise he is a public servant of the people and as such should be expected to treat us ordinary Americans with at least the barest modicum of respect as his employer. We don't automatically owe him unquestioning allegiance by virtue of his office. If he wants our support and respect, the onus is on him to earn it, just as any other employee must.

Glenn Greenwald expands on this theme, noting other more worthy and combat experienced Presidents who preceded Bush eschewed the grandiose pretensions that our current president wraps around himself like a mantle of nobility. Gen. Eisenhower never expected to be saluted as President, rightly recognizing the distinction between his military leadership and his civilian office. That affection of current presidents started with Reagan, who also never saw a battlefield outside of the movies. And Teddy Roosevelt, who served our country with great honor, also rightly perceived the POTUS is "merely the most important among a large number of public servants." Glenn encapsulates the concept well in his book.
With regard to Americans generally, the president is not our "commander" but instead our elected public servant, subject to the mandates of the law like every other citizen and subordinate to the will of the people.
To be fair, this is not solely a quirk of the President. Historically, all our government employees were routinely referred to as public servants. But today, from the POTUS, through the legislatures right down to the lowliest clerk at the DMV, our public employees have embraced an air of entitlement that suggests they are our superiors. It's time we reminded all of them that they work for us, not the other way around.
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